September 24 2021 03:30 pm

Cal Fire runs 24-hour operation out of McClellan Air Park to support firefighters with air tankers

Local News

MCCLELLAN PARK, Calif. (KTXL) – As multiple major fires burn around the state, Cal Fire is sending in air support to help firefighters on the ground.

“So far this year, we’re … probably at least 163,000 acres above what we were last year,” Tyson Federici, a Cal Fire apparatus engineer, told FOX40.  

This year, they are sending out massive air tankers earlier than ever before to help knock down flames up and down the state, Cal Fire said.

“Without them, I think we’d be seeing our fires get a lot bigger a lot quicker,” Federici said.

Cal Fire’s Aviation Headquarters runs a 24-hour operation out of McClellan Air Park, making sure each tanker is fueled, maintained and filled with retardant to be ready at a moment’s notice.

Tuesday, crews filled tankers with 180,000 gallons of retardant alone.

Since the beginning of June, they’ve dropped 1.3 million gallons of retardant on fires across California.

“We just get in the airplane and start it, and off we go,” said Neptune Aviation Air Tanker Captain Dale Dahl. 

Dahl has been flying air tankers for over 20 years. He said he used to work four or five months out of the year. Now, his job is nearly year-round.

“In the last five, six, seven years, … all the citizens in California know firsthand, personally, just how busy, every year gets more, and more and more.”

Just after FOX40 spoke to Dahl, he got an assignment to fly over the Dixie Fire in Butte County, and within minutes he was in the air.

Cal Fire’s goal is to have an aircraft over every new fire within 20 minutes of getting the call.

The agency already has the largest aerial firefighting fleet in the world, and they’re in the process of adding even more tankers to the lineup.

“I think we will continue to see our aircraft starting earlier in the season, going later,” Federici said.

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