During the recent spate of Northern California fires, DynCorp International (DI) pilots on the state of California’s aerial firefighting program flew 700 hours in seven days, from October 9 through October 15, 2017.
“Our pilots have to ramp up extraordinarily quickly,” said Jeff Cavarra, DI’s program director for CAL FIRE. “On October 9th alone, 149 flight hours were reached in less than a 24-hour period. To perform in such a professional manner after having a relatively quiet period prior to the firestorm really showcases the skill and ability of our pilots.”
CAL FIRE as an agency, including state-owned air tankers and contracted air tankers, pumped 3,600,000 gallons of fire retardant in a two-week period. One DI pilot even made 21 drops on a fire in one seven-hour period, operating the aircraft in single-pilot configuration (which is much more demanding than dual-crewed).
In addition to the flight hours and millions of gallons of retardant, CAL FIRE maintenance technicians kept the aircraft running. In a typical ‘fire bust,’ one or two air attack bases become the focal point, with many aircraft making trips to and from the fire. The recent wildfires engendered a different scenario. There were at least five air attack bases operating with numerous aircraft. The maintenance technicians were putting in long hours at all of these bases to make certain the aircraft were safe to fly. DI’s CAL FIRE crew at McClellan AFB supported the bases with additional mechanics and aircraft parts.
“We dispatched several mechanics into the areas where fires were actively burning, like Santa Rosa and Chico,” said Jeff Cavarra. “We had to check if roads were open to allow them to get to the bases. These mechanics went to the bases knowing they may have to sleep on the floor as all of the local lodging was filled by evacuees.”
“As usual, I am honored to call these people co-workers,” continued Jeff. “They performed flawlessly in spite of the overwhelming odds they faced from Mother Nature.”