Cal Fire calls new helicopter fleet a ‘game-changer’

California Connection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Cal Fire says its new fleet of helicopters is more than just another resource – it’s a “game-changer” giving firefighters 24 hours of coverage from the sky.

“The latest and greatest in avionics,” Cal Fire Deputy Director Mike Mohler said.

With 12 brand new S-70i Firehawks, pilots will be able to drop water over fires at night for the first time.

“So what it boiled down to was safety. And this aircraft has two engines on it compared to an aircraft that had one engine, so it has a secondary failsafe to it,” Mohler said. “So that’s why it’s safer to fly at night. But again, still a dangerous operation.”

Pilot Brent Star is training other pilots on how to fly the new aircraft with night vision goggles. He said the goggles decrease the field of vision, making flying extremely difficult. 

“Take a toilet paper tube or a paper towel tube and use that, put that over your head and that’s what you’re going to see when you fly,” Star explained. “Look at this little tube through here. I only have a field of view of 40 degrees.”

It will take months of practice that Star said will be well worth it.

“Now we can have 24-hour coverage,” he said.

Lower temperatures and higher humidity at night can often help firefighters gain more ground.

The new helicopters also come equipped with more space for crews, a hoisting system and a larger tank for water storage.

“This is a thousand gallons compared to just over 300 on our Hueys,” Mohler said.

Cal Fire hopes the new technologies will be more than just extra resources.

“This is a game-changer,” Mohler said. “This is an absolute game-changer.”

The helicopters cost $300 million in all, paid for by the state. Cal Fire hopes to start using them next year.

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