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In less than two minutes, the ship and crew have been confi gured to fi ght fi re. The pilot pedal-turns to the left and lowers the nose. The rotors bite down hard into the thin air, and with the familiar metallic grind and wop-wop-wop of a Vietnam-era movie, the Huey makes a beeline for the nearest dip site to take on water. Meanwhile, the helitack crew stumps toward the blaze and begins cutting a fi rebreak strip bordering the left fl ank.


BURNING TIMBER, BURNING BUDGETS Wildfi res are uncontrolled fi res that begin in areas of combustible vegetation such as grass, brush, or timber. While lightning causes some wildfi res, experts estimate that 90 percent are human-related, sparked by campfi res, arsonists, and machinery. Coupled with the fourth year of unprecedented drought and a surplus of organic fuels, fi res are spreading much more quickly than in previous years. The King Fire in Eldorado County, California, exploded by 50,000 acres in a single day.


In 2014, California burned through its $209 million budget to fi ght wildfi res in just the fi rst quarter of its fi scal year. An additional $70 million had to be reallocated from reserves to fund the traditional wildfi re season that was yet to come. By year’s end, CAL FIRE, the state’s fi re emergency response and resource protection department, had responded to 5,260 fi res ... 1,000 more than the previous year.


CAL FIRE’s mission is to protect lives, property, and natural resources in a 31-million-acre area of pristine timberland, wildlands, and urban forests. The agency covers the state with 810 fi re stations operating 1,095 fi re


38 May 2015


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