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Once on a fi re, a pilot’s workload becomes extremely busy. The priority – always – is to support their crew on the ground and keep them safe. At the same time, pilots must look out for other aircraft, spot environmental hazards such as trees and terrain, and discern vital information from multiple radios. Diffi cult-to-see electrical wires along roadways, running through neighborhoods, and strung across the width of canyons are an issue for every pilot. However, the biggest hazard is arguably the smoke itself. It can reduce visibility

to dangerous levels and is

extremely unpleasant to breath. THE ACTION CONTINUES

“On the dip,” the pilot calls as he descends toward the pond. Lowering the Huey into a shallow hover over the water, the Bambi bucket sinks and fi lls with more than a ton of water. “Off the dip,” the pilot calls again as he heads back to the fi re.

42 May 2015

“Copter four-zero-four,” calls Air Attack, “Your next drop is on the left shoulder. Your crew is trying to go direct in there. They’ll follow you in behind your bucket.” The Huey fl ies left traffi c around the fi re in a predictable pattern.

“Wires,” the captain in the copilot seat calls out.

“I have the wires,” the PIC confi rms. Battling fi re-induced turbulence and acrid smoke, the helicopter turns to the left shoulder. Finding the target, the pilot releases a cascade of water and foam onto the fi re below. “Off the drop,” he announces. The Huey will repeat variations of this cycle 16 times before additional resources relieve the initial attack aircraft.

With another winter of little meaningful rain or snow, California is once again heading into the worst fi re season on record. With

large winter wildfi res already on the books, the state is moving away from a traditional summer fi re season, and adjusting to the mindset that the entire year is now one never-ending season.

Covered in soot and stained with sweat, exhausted yet exhilarated by their eff orts, the helitack crew is quiet on the fl ight back to base. There will be no time to shower or rest. Sunset is still four hours away and the potential for another call-out is high. Gear has to be cleaned and prepped, and the helicopter needs to be made ready for the next mission in a continuous season of preparation for the next fi ght.

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