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Cal Fire working on reducing fire risk from the air

Sep 19, 2023Sep 19, 2023

By Andrew Haubner

May 23, 2023 / 6:51 PM / CBS Sacramento

CALAVERAS COUNTY — Cal Fire was down in Calaveras County Tuesday conducting a prescribed burn with an interesting piece of equipment not often seen.

The concept of backburning is a well-known firefighting technique, but doing so from a helicopter is something we don't often see. It could, however, be a bigger part of Cal Fire's fight in the future.

A prescribed burn is nothing new to Cal Fire or residents in certain parts of Calaveras County.

"It's a way that we can light fire on our terms as opposed to an out-of-control wildland fire," said Matt Harrison with Cal Fire.

This is something we don't often see.

"We're providing some training for aerial ignition and our ground folks in fire operations," Harrison said.

The unit is training pilots with an added application to their helicopters: a helitorch that can be used to backburn the area.

"It is a great tool to get us into areas that we don't otherwise have access to," said Emily Kilgore of Cal Fire.

It is an application that can be helpful in the future of firefighting.

"It's just a matter of the right tool at the right time with the right application," Harrison said.

Don't expect to see it in every fire. The planning for such use can take days and for specific conditions.

"There is some criteria that has to be met ahead of time and a plan put in place," Kilgore said. "So there's several days of planning before they can use helicopter ignition."

It's a tool in the belt as fire season this year has the potential to still be dangerous.

"Things have dried out later than last year. In California, eventually, everything is going to dry out. It's just a matter of when.

Heading into this summer, the agency wants people to remain vigilant. Just because there was a lot of water over the winter doesn't mean the risk level is zero.

Andrew Haubner joins the CBS13 team after spending the last four years running the sports department at KEZI-TV in Eugene, Oregon.

First published on May 23, 2023 / 6:51 PM

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