The California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CAL FIRE) is bolstering its firefighting aircraft fleet in preparation for peak wildfire season, thanks to over $72 million in funding provided by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The agency has secured contracts for 24 additional firefighting aircraft, which includes:
- 19 helicopters.
- 5 airplanes.
The aircraft are available for contracts that last between 90 days and 120 days, according to a press release from the agency.
The additional fixed-wing aircraft include 3 large airtankers specifically designed to carry up to 4,000 gallons of retardant. These aircraft have been strategically located in communities across California and will be pre-positioned to meet the needs of potential fire activity throughout the state.
A CAL FIRE spokesperson told Government Fleet that the agency is also growing its own aerial fleet. Its fleet of Sikorsky S-70i FireHawk helicopters will grow from 12 to 16, allowing the agency to expand its night missions.
"The deployment of more aircraft dedicated to the people of California marks a historic milestone, with the highest number of firefighting aircraft ever available for initial attack in the state for the second consecutive year," CAL FIRE Director and Fire Chief Joe Tyler said.
The significant rainfall California experienced last winter has led to a substantial increase of highly flammable fuels, which contribute to the rapid escalation of fires, Tyler explained.
Last week alone, CAL FIRE responded to over 300 wildfires as temperatures continued to increase across the state.
“In just five years, California’s wildfire response has seen a tech revolution," Newsom said. "We’re enlisting cutting-edge technology in our efforts to fight wildfires, exploring how innovations like artificial intelligence can help us identify threats quicker and deploy resources smarter. And with the world’s largest aerial firefighting force and more firefighters on the ground than ever before, we’re keeping more Californians safer from wildfire. While these resources will help protect our communities, Californians need to remain vigilant for what could be an intense wildfire season this year.”
The state's peak wildfire season is forecasted to be similar to the 2017 season, which was the most destructive wildfire season on record in California at the time, surpassed by only the 2018 and 2020 seasons. In 2017, 1.5 million acres burned in 9,270 wildfires, with nearly 11,000 structures destroyed and 47 fatalities.
As of this writing, 8,418 acres have burned in 2,584 wildfires in 2023.
Aircraft are initially prepositioned in the following Counties: Butte, Tuolumne, San Diego, Tulare, Humboldt, Mariposa, Nevada, Siskiyou, Sacramento, Fresno, Shasta, San Luis Obispo, Napa, Placer, Lassen, Riverside, and Sonoma Counties.
Additionally, since 2019, the Defense Secretary has authorized the California National Guard to use its remotely-piloted aircraft for rapid aerial mapping and wildfire assessment as needed, according to a press release from Gov. Newsom's office.