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Cal Fire uses new tech to train helicopter crews to fight fires at night

New tech enables Cal Fire to train helicopter crews for night operations
New tech enables Cal Fire to train helicopter crews for night operations 02:24

SACRAMENTO – Cal Fire is in its first few years of using a new device that enables the agency to train helicopter pilots and crews to battle flames from the sky at night.

It marks a significant shift in fighting wildfires as nighttime helicopter suppression used to be impossible.

Cal Fire's S70 Hawk helicopters mobilized Wednesday in a unique training operation.

"What this does is expand our operational capabilities to not just daylight," said  Benjamin Berman, Cal Fire's helicopter program manager and chief pilot.

Pilots and crew members are undergoing NVG (night vision goggles) transition training, practicing fire suppression techniques under the cover of darkness. Berman says the additional layers of techniques and safety protocols required for nighttime operations is extensive.

Among the crews participating in the training are Boggs Mountain Helitak, Howard Forest Helitak, and Columbia Helitak, alongside five other crews across the state. They will soon apply their training to execute operations in their respective regions.

Residents near Folsom Lake may hear the crew members practicing as they fly low over the water, scooping up water from the lake, and dropping it on designated targets on nearby land. 

Berman highlights the potential of nighttime fire suppression in reducing major wildfires across the state.

"We can utilize that time at night to get that turn on the fire and be able to suppress it easier," he said.

With wildfires growing more intense in recent years, adapting new tactics is crucial.

"Nature is throwing its best curveball at us, and we're just trying to stay ahead of it," Berman noted.

Cal Fire assures that the training will continue until midnight, so residents who hear helicopters in the evening need not worry; it's just part of the ongoing training efforts.

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