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Cal Fire Ready for Busy Wildfire Season with 22 Air Tankers

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MCCLELLAN -- When wildfires rage in California, an essential part of the firefight comes from the sky.

"We'll use these air tankers on the initial attack," said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

Before fire season, Cal Fire's 50 aircraft live at McClellan air park.

It's where they're fine tuned and rebuilt before flying into the flames.

"Fire retardant is kept in here, right in the belly of the aircraft," Berlant said.

Cal Fire has 22 active air tankers.

The former military planes, which once helped defend our country at sea, now protect our state from wildfires.

A 23rd tanker is currently being gutted and transformed to fight fires.

"There used to be a torpedo. These were used for chasing subs off of ships," said Chris Hansen, with Cal Fire air operations.

This former naval aircraft is just starting its transformation.

"They do have two seats up front, retardant tank here and other controls and pieces here, as well," said Hansen.

The plane will replace Tanker 81, which was destroyed during the Dog Rock Fire in 2014.

Veteran pilot Craig Hunt was killed in that crash.

"We wanna do the best job we can for him because he was a great person and a great man with this organization for a long time," said Hansen.

Mechanics at Cal Fire's aviation facility will be working on the new tanker for close to two years.

In the meantime, the other tankers are already taking off, as the first line of defense against California's wildfires.