WeatherFire Watch


New helitankers become game-changer in the Alisal fire fight

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Posted at 6:37 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-16 18:10:31-04

There’s a group of aircraft that’s helped increase the containment significantly on the Alisal Fire.

It’s the second-largest fire the trio of type 1 helitankers have responded to outside Southern California.

A couple of days into the Alisal Fire they were called in to fight the blaze during the day and at night.

“Those fixed-wing air tankers go back to base after it gets dark. The retardant stops right then until the next morning until now,” said Chief Brian Fennessey of Orange County Fire Authority.

OCFA along with Los Angeles and Ventura County Fire Departments created what’s known as the Quick Reaction Force.

It’s a pilot program that launched on June 15th of this year with the goal to suppress fire as quickly as possible.

Other aircraft drop about 350 gallons but the biggest of this force drops more than 8 times that.

“Two that drop 3,000 gallons and the other helitanker drops 1,000 gallons,” Chief Fennessey said.

Overnight Thursday, we saw the biggest jump in containment since the fire started on Monday.

“When the winds died down and we were able to get all these aircraft up in the air it was very beneficial because it allowed us to knock down heavy fire,” said Captain Daniel Bertucelli with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

The Quick Reaction Force first responded to the Caldor Fire that ignited in mid-August near South Lake Tahoe making history with their efforts.

“They were able to drop for the very first time in Northern California night water drops. For the very first time ever, night retardant drops from a helitanker,” Chief Fennessey explained.

For this fire, the force is staged at the Santa Barbara Airport.

They have a mobile retardant base in tow as well adding to their overall efficiency.

The pilot program expires in mid-December and then they’re off to their next destination.

“As soon as we're done with them, I mean, that very next day, they're going to be prepared to be shipped down to Australia for their fire season,” Chief Fennessey said.

There are several aircraft that are able to fly at night assigned to this fire but they cannot carry as much water as the helitankers on this force.

The pilot program is 180 days, paid for through Southern California Edison.