Firefighters of the sky: Behind the scenes of the air attack on the Washburn Fire

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Fire crews on the ground and in the air are gaining momentum on the Washburn Fire burning in Yosemite National Park.

The restriction is increasing on the fire, which broke out last week and has already burned thousands of acres.

More than 360,000 gallons of fire retardant have fallen in the eight days of the fire.

Action News visited Fresno Air Attack Base to introduce you to the team making it all possible.

Pilot Christian Holm holds one of the air tankers working on the Washburn Fire.

“It kind of challenges me, you know, to be a part of it. When I say it’s my passion, it really is,” he says.

Its carrier is capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of retarding fire.

When we spoke with him, he was preparing for his 25th fall over the fire that is charring Yosemite National Park and the Sierra National Forest.

Although his role is critical in fighting fires, he is humble, calling it part of a much bigger operation.

“It’s a team effort. Fixed wing is just one aspect. We have the helicopters, the boots on the ground, the girls and the guys who are in this 100-degree heat with their packs working at high altitude,” he says.

The Tanker pilot of nearly three decades started as one of those pairs of boots on the ground, working as a firefighter in the Southern California and Central Santa Cruz County Fire before moving into aerial firefighting.

“Every year seems to be the largest fire on record for all the prospective states, so fire behavior and incident size seem to have increased,” he says.

Holm flies out of Fresno Air Attack Base at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

“At the base, everyone has their own role, from the mixers to the loaders, the parking contests to the pilots who fly,” says Battalion Chief Ben Castaneda.

Castaneda says the fire retardant is mixed into the base.

“It goes from there, underground to the pits where they load every aircraft.”

As the aircraft approach, crews get to work, quickly filling their tanks before flying back to the Washburn Fire, where chemicals help ground crews keep the flames contained.

But their team responsibilities go beyond that when they are assigned to a fire.

Air Attack investigates the size of each fire, selecting the aircraft it needs, keeping them full of fuel and retardant, and using their eyes in the sky to provide information on the behavior of the fire.

“They can go up and down the state. This year alone we’ve sent tankers to Arizona, Nevada, Utah. They made their drops and then came back at night,” says Castaneda.

Castaneda says that no matter the day or the incident, they remain ready for anything.

“Wake up every morning expecting the worst and make the best of it.”

The CAL FIRE and Forest Service facility has supported aerial operations on wildfires from Central California to western Nevada since the 1950s.

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Firefighters of the sky: Behind the scenes of the air attack on the Washburn Fire Source link Firefighters of the sky: Behind the scenes of the air attack on the Washburn Fire

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