The U.S. Forest Service will begin using helicopters at night to suppress the wildfires in Southern California this summer.
“The re-introduction of Forest Service night helicopter firefighting operations in Southern California further establishes the agency’s commitment to protect lives and property in the region,” Chief Tom Tidwell said.
The program will begin this month. Air crews will support suppression efforts in the wildland areas within and adjacent to the Angeles, Cleveland, San Bernardino and the southern half of Los Padres national forests.
The use of the agency’s night flying helicopter will be determined by the Angeles National Forest in coordination with local, county and state partners and will be assigned to incidents through normal dispatch procedures.
“California has already experienced challenging wildfires this season, and is projected to continue to have a severe summer,” Tidwell said.
The Forest Service will also implement a night aerial supervision fixed-wing program to support the helicopter night flying operations. The program will include an agency-owned aircraft, pilots and an air tactical group supervisor.
The agency’s helicopter night flying operations will be consistently evaluated to determine if there is a benefit in terms of containing fires, preventing new starts from becoming large fires and potential cost savings in fire suppression.
These benefits will be weighed against the safety, risk and cost of the program. If there is a measurable benefit and a documented need in other areas of the county, the Forest Service will evaluate expansion of the program.
“Night flying operations will provide an aggressive agency initial attack while better ensuring public safety, minimizing overall fire costs and lessening impacts to communities,” Tidwell said.
The Forest Service maintains 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.
Forest service lands contribute more than $130 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year.
The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the $850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.
– David Mariuz