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Cal Fire has added two more type-1 helitankers to its aerial firefighting operations in the Sonoma Lake Napa Unit.

Helitanker 1CH from Columbia Helicopters will be based out of Napa County Airport, and Helitanker 37S from Siller Brothers will fly from Sonoma Air Attack base at the Sonoma County Airport.

The unit already uses one type-1 Cal Fire Hawk, based in Lake County. The region now has three large helicopters helping Cal Fire respond quicker to fires and handle multiple fires from the air. The aircraft will be available for fire assignments in all of California.

“As rapid fires spread and concurrent wildfires will continue to be the norm, and areas throughout the state previously thought to be immune to large and damaging fires are proving to be as vulnerable as areas with active fire histories,” Cal Fire said, in a statement.

“The entire state is at greater risk of major fires than at any other time in recorded history, including the redwood coastal belts and the more temperate areas of Northern California, as evidenced by the 2020 San Mateo and Santa Cruz Unit Lightning Complex, which burned over 86,000 acres and destroyed 1,490 structures along the coast range of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.”

“The entire state is at greater risk of major fires than at any other time in recorded history, including the redwood coastal belts and the more temperate areas of Northern California.”

Cal Fire

The agency said it will need additional equipment to enhance its ability to meet the increasing operational deficiencies created by a changing climate, meet demands caused by a year-round fire regime, and provide a deeper pool of available equipment.

In addition to its own helicopters, the state agency relies on exclusive use contracted or “call when needed” helicopters to increase its aviation response. But those do not guarantee the availability of a helicopter when necessary.

Helitanker 1CH is a Boeing CH-47D Chinook, owned and operated by Columbia Helicopters of Aurora, Oregon. It arrived and has been used by Cal Fire since June 16, 2022. It holds up to 2,800 gallons of water on a fixed tank, which is permanently attached to the aircraft. The fixed tank system also provides a safer operation since there’s no bucket hanging underneath the helicopter while in flight.

Helitanker 37S is a Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane. It arrived and has been in use since July 1, 2022. It holds up to 2,000 gallons of water on a fixed tank. It features three experienced pilots — a command pilot, copilot, and aft seat pilot.

The state also has on exclusive use contract this year, three large airtankers with 3,000- and 4,000-gallon capacity, as well as those normally available from its partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.