Watch: California Firefighters Go Toe-to-Toe With Wildfire

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Multiple Screenshots show California firefighters different means of battling wildfires. Hand crews work to limit fuel to the fire while flying apparatus drop water and fire retardant onto the blaze. Screen grabs from YouTube. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Firefighter helicopters, bulldozers, and airplanes —oh my! When a wildfire sparked in the scrubby hills outside Sacramento, California, on May 1, Cal Fire sent ground crews, machinery, and multiple aircraft after it, in what was both a rapid response and an early season warmup for what authorities expect to be a fire-heavy summer. Cal Fire officials from Butte addressed the need to pre-position equipment and personnel during a May 5 press conference for fire preparedness week.

Dubbed the Salmon Fire, the blaze that sparked on May 1 was 100% contained by May 4, burning only 32 acres.

Watch the video below to see how they did it:

The video covers nearly every element of wildfire attacks.

Field crews chop and cut trees near the fire to limit fuel with chain saws and hand tools, within feet of the blaze. There are also specially equipped fuel-clearing bulldozers on hand.

Overhead, helicopters circle to dump water, including both California’s new Fire Hawk H-60s (modified versions of the military H-60 Black Hawk), which use internal water tanks, and older helicopters carrying so-called “Bambi Buckets.” The video captures the helicopters refilling with water from a pond.

Above the helicopters, Grumman S-2T aircraft (former Navy submarine hunters) orbit and wait their turn to dive over the flames to release chemical retardants.

During the Cal Fire Butte Unit event on May 5, the California Office of Emergency Services Fire Chief Brian Marshall said that pre-positioning personnel and equipment enables them to catch the fires when they are small and more easily extinguished.

“To date, we’ve spent almost $24 million in pre-position funding to make sure that local jurisdictions have the resources available to have the capacity available to stop the fires when they’re small,” Marshall said. “Because when they’re a million acres — it’s difficult, it’s time-consuming, but if we can jump on that fire when it’s small, we will be highly successful.”

YouTube user Max McGregor posted the video of the Salmon Fire operations.

Joshua is a staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis that followed the death of George Floyd. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, Joshua grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he earned his CrossFit Level 1 certificate and worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. Joshua went on to work in paramedicine for more than five years, much of that time in the North Minneapolis area, before transitioning to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married, has two children, and is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion, which is where he publishes poetry focused on his life experiences.
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