Chinooks Rev Up for SoCal Fire Season

Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin      June 25, 2021

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Chinooks Rev Up for SoCal Fire Season
PHOTO COURTESY 69 BRAVO A CH-47 Chinook fills up 3,000 gallons of water at the 69 Bravo refilling base Tuesday, November 17, 2020. The Los Angeles County Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority conducted a joint training exercise with the world’s largest firefighting helicopter. The drill was to familiarize the CH-47 Chinook’s pilots with LA County’s state-of-the-art automated refilling base, 69 Bravo, high above Topanga Canyon. The fire department will have use of the helicopter through December.
Look, up in the sky—the Chinooks are here! The world’s largest firefighting choppers, two Boeing CH-47 Chinook tandem rotor, heavy lift helicopters, based in Los Angeles and Orange Counties for the next six months, will be able to keep small fires small and extinguish large wildfires on steep, inaccessible slopes. Ventura County will contribute to the firefighting air power with a powerful Sikorsky S61 Helitanker. With a command helicopter to support all operations based in Orange County, the three counties now have more powerful weapons to use during fire season. For the Los Angeles County Fire Department, these helitankers add to their arsenal as they currently have five Sikorsky S70 Firehawks, five Bell 412 helicopters, and a seasonal exclusive contract with the government of Quebec, Canada, for a 90-day lease of two CL-415 Super Scoopers, which are expected to arrive in early September. The increased air capacity was largely driven by the disastrous legacy of the 2018 Woolsey Fire, when a spark from a Southern California Edison electrical line on a hot, dry, windy day started a fire that burned 96,949 acres from the Simi Hills to Malibu, destroyed 1,643 structures, killed three people and prompted the evacuation of more than 295,000 people. Ravaging communities in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, including the cities of Malibu and Calabasas, Woolsey emphasized the need for immediate change as the firestorm was extremely active and caused extensive damage during both day and night. According to Craig Lapsley, head of emergency services for the state of Victoria, Australia, and the one in charge of the Chinook deployments, “Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura Counties all share the same wildfire risk along with other counties in Southern California.” “Likewise, Southern California Edison also has a significant investment and risk of wildfire. Together, with the county fire departments and authorities, they have collaborated and invested to create a new capability for initial attack through the formation of a Quick Reaction Force (QRF),” Lapsley wrote. To fund the QRF, Edison provided nearly $18 million for the technology, which includes the Chinooks that can fly day or night and are able to carry up to 3,000 gallons of fire-retardant or water in a single load. 69 Bravo Helistop L.A. County Fire can be especially proud of their enhanced firefighting capabilities. The state-of-the-art 69 Bravo Helistop, the world’s most advanced water supply station, allows for automatic refilling of water-dropping helicopters and helitankers around the clock to be deployed throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. Additionally, 69 Bravo has been upgraded from its original 6,000-gallon orange rubber/vinyl “pumpkin” reservoirs to four new 8,000-gallon steel tanks to accommodate the Chinook CH-47. With the two Chinooks, based at Van Nuys Airport and the Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos in Orange County, and the Sikorsky S61 Helitanker based in Ventura County, each will be located within a 15-minute flight to 69 Bravo Helistop. Chief Andrew Smith of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said that they have been anticipating Red Flag days well into January 2022. At a recent Topanga Town Council meeting, he spoke of the helitanker and fixed-wing drills they conducted on Dec. 17, 2020, at 69 Bravo. (See The Canyon Chronicle, “The World’s Largest Helitanker,” November 13, 2020, Vol. 1, No. 10) “Over the last two months the Department has had aircraft readiness drills at 69 Bravo where they tested a helitanker to snorkel 3,000 gallons in less than two minutes,” Chief Smith said. “This helitanker can go from Los Alamitos to Topanga in 15 minutes; we have [access to] four helicopters and two fixed-wings from the State if it’s really needed.” Game Changers “The three Chinooks are game changers in many ways,” said Lapsley. “The ability to work multiple CH-47D Very Large Helitankers (VLHT) and other helitanker aircraft together dramatically improves water and retardant delivery rates and will create a significant and dynamic perimeter control synergy,” he wrote via email. Lapsley stated that a QRF will be at the ready for those Red Flag Days when the Santa Ana winds blow, temperatures are high and chaparral is dry. “These aircraft will be used together in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange County,” Lapsley said during a recent Los Virgenes Homeowner’s Federation meeting. “They can see through smoke and in the dark and see where the fire actually is. The Woolsey fire ran through the night; this is the sort of helicopter that will know where the fire is. It’s better for the community, you will have better information, have a safer community, and better outcomes.” For more on 69 Bravo, including streaming webcams, videos, and photos, go to 69bravo.com.
Annemarie Donkin

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