SUTTER CREEK, Calif. – Wildfires are an unfortunate reality many Californians face each year, and as 2021 unfolds as an arid year, the threat of wildfires is increased throughout the state.
Between January 1 and April 25, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CAL FIRE, responded to more than 1,300 fires. According to statistics maintained by CAL FIRE, 2,219 acres have already burned, which is more than double acreage burned during the same period last year.
Coming off a historic fire year in which 1.4 million acres burned, the agency is being proactive and including the California National Guard to prepare for this season’s fires.
Over 100 Cal Guard Soldiers and Airmen conducted aerial firefighting training in partnership with CAL FIRE April 23-25 in the Sacramento and Ione areas with satellite classrooms in Los Alamitos and Stockton.
During the two-phased training exercise, a classroom portion went over fire theory, aerial operations and rules of engagement. In contrast, field training in Amador County had helicopter pilots and crews dip water from Pardee Lake and drop buckets of water on a simulated fire mapped along nearby ridgelines.
In 2020, the large-scale interagency training exercise was canceled and aircrews conducted localized classroom and field training near their home stations.
“We had to cancel the event last year due to the pandemic. It was essential this year that we held a productive training event for the new Cal Fire Military Helicopter Managers (MHEMs), and our new crew members,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Allen, commander of the California Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment who was the Guard’s senior Army aviator on the ground during the field training.
“Due to the threat of rain on Sunday, the scheduled flight training was compressed to complete on Saturday. Even with a compressed schedule, all the MHEMs were trained safely and efficiently,” he said.
Through a joint effort, Cal Fire and the California National Guard refined cooperation and communication between the different agencies to make large-scale firefighting tasks more efficient for everyone involved.
“I was pleased with the training this year,” said Allen. “Overall, I thought it was a successful training event between the CNG and Cal Fire.”