ANDERSON, Calif. — A critical aspect of fighting a raging wild fire, such as the Carr Fire in Northern California, comes from the skies and onto a sheet of paper.
This is where the California National Guard steps forward to provide a significant firefighting method. A team from the Air National Guard's 195th Airlift Wing is utilized as a reconnaissance and surveillance unit, providing the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) up-to-date intelligence used to battle the state's most treacherous blaze this year.
"We're able to provide real-time eyes on in any area where the fire's at," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Nicholas Edwards, intelligence analyst manager. "We can provide information to where CAL FIRE can direct resources. We give information to the decision makers in a timely manner."
The Cal Guard team works side-by-side and on the same table with CAL FIRE analysts who are in-depth with the Carr Fire's destruction. In about a week it has amassed to nearly 90,000 acres, destroying more than 500 homes and buildings and killing at least six people. Thousands of Redding residents have evacuated, and the blaze still hasn't been contained.
"Oh, they're seriously helping us," said CAL FIRE's Capt. Robert DeCamp, intelligence officer. "The knowledge they have and the information they provide are critical for us to fight the fire. They have equipment we don't have and that helps us tremendously."
U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Matthew LeMaire, an imagery expert, and Staff Sgt. Marlon Ramos, an analyst, monitor the fire via a MQ-9 Reaper, a remotely-piloted aircraft. The "bird" is so technically proficient, it collects intelligence with its wide-range sensors and sends precise data. In wartime, the Reaper is used in other ways, like to track targets.
"This is extremely rewarding helping them with our capabilities," LeMaire said.
Twice a day LeMaire and Ramos gather the drone's information and provide printouts to CAL FIRE. The information is transcribed into maps and/or pamphlets, and those are released to firefighters and emergency crews. This is vital for everyone to track the fire's movements so they can position defenses and even notify the public if evacuations are evident.
"They bring to the table a key part of our mission," said DeCamp, who has worked with Cal Guard in past wildfires. "This is one fire that's very unpredictable, but we can track it with the capabilities the Guard provides us."