Helicopters fight Caldor Fire at night — a first for Northern California

Wildfire Watch

AMADOR COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — Groundbreaking technology has made its way to Northern California, providing fire crews with something they haven’t had much of at night: options.

For the first time, large helicopters equipped with night vision and guidance from a separate aircraft allowed firefighters to combat blazes from the air at night.

“This is the first time that we have ever had water-dropping helicopters at night in Northern California,” said Kyle Tolosano, Regional Aviation Safety Manager for the U.S. Forest Service.

Officials said it was the intensity of the Caldor Fire and how much it grew on Tuesday that forced them to make the call to bring in this fleet.

“It definitely has the potential to be a game-changer,” Tolosano said. “The fire typically moderates at night when the fire is not burning as extreme and the conditions allow the helicopters to get in there and they can support the crews and put water and retardant on the ground.”

Wayne Coulson owns Coulson Aviation, the company that runs these aircraft, said the twin-rotor Chinook can drop 3,000 gallons of water or retardant, while the single-rotor S-61, a civilian version of the Sea King, can drop 1,000 gallons.

“We can lay retardant at night which is a game-changer we feel,” Coulson said. “Flying at night, there is an extra risk, but there is an additional reward.”

The helicopters are capable of having their tanks refilled within minutes, returning back to the fire. No longer limited by daylight, the option of continuous fire attack through the air overnight is now a gamechanger for gaining the upper hand on the Caldor Fire.

“At the end of the day, the firefighters put the fire out — we are here to assist them,” Coulson said. “This will be the first time we drop retardant ever on federal land at night. I think everybody is looking for different solutions and we are just glad we can be a part of it and glad we can help.”

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