California National Guard to mobilize hundreds of personnel to help fight wildfires
By STEPHEN CARLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2017
Soldiers and equipment from the California National Guard were being mobilized as wildfires spread rapidly by high winds continue to ravage thousands of acres and burn down homes throughout the southern areas of the state, emergency and Guard officials said Thursday.
The four largest fires in southern California have burned more than 116,000 acres, according to the state Office of Emergency Services. Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate the flames, which are fueled by wind speeds of more than 30 mph with gusts of up to 60 mph across the region, with the conditions expected to run through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
“Fierce Santa Ana winds, combined with dry brush and dead trees fueled multiple fires in Ventura and Los Angeles counties the evening of Dec. 4,” according to an emergency services statement on Wednesday. “Thousands of acres burned overnight destroying infrastructure, residences, and prompting mass evacuations. In addition, several major freeways shut down, schools closed, and historical landmarks were threatened.”
Capt. William Martin, spokesman for the California National Guard, said several hundred Guard soldiers are being mobilized during the next two days to assist in traffic control and other support roles for the roughly 5,000 firefighters battling the blaze.
In addition, two C-130 Hercules tanker aircraft, four Blackhawk helicopters, two HEMTT refueling trucks and a MQ-9 Reaper drone already have been deployed, Martin said.
C-130 aircraft can be outfitted to drop fire retardant used to extinguish flare ups in difficult to reach areas, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Modified firefighting versions of the Blackhawk, known as the Firehawk, have already seen use to douse fires and protect structures using water drops on the Skirball Fire near Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations Section.
MQ-9 Reapers are an updated version of the famed Predator drone and are designed for strike missions overseas. Martin said the drone is being used for monitoring wildfires and potential flare ups using its sophisticated thermal and night imaging systems, which can detect light and heat far better than the naked eye and from a much higher altitude.