BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — As we’ve seen in some parts of the state, wildfire season is underway, and many expect this to be a tough year with drought conditions. With that, the Kern County Fire Department is ramping up training, and local crews will play a major role in helping, including those who take to the skies.
Last year, thousands of fire personnel were on the ground battling flames as wildfires took over more than 4 million acres of the state. But those ground crews also relied heavily on that support from above.
“The initial attack is an adrenaline rush for sure, but being able to see the eyes on the fire before it lands helps out.”
Caitlyn Bernard with the KCFD says this help comes in many forms.
“With seeing the terrain what the weather's like if there's anything ahead of us that we need to be aware of.”
Bernard is heading into her second year as a seasonal firefighter with the department and says she took the job because she wanted to help people on their worst days. She is one of several helitack members that work with the sky crew.
“While we're assessing the fire, I'm looking for a place to land that would be an advantage point to drop the helitack crew off out of the helicopter,” said Department Pilot Jared Sharp.
Sharp says this will be the safest and closest location to the fire, where they can start battling the flames head-on.
"They'll get started at the anchor point. We will drop the snorkel and we will attack the fire together and find the closest water source to do some water dropping."
This is why both roles play a vital role in the fight.
"Without a crew on the ground to tie in the water drops, sometimes you end up with missing sections of the line, sometimes the fire can reignite,” said Fire Captain Brandon Asher.
As training continues to ramp up, the KCFD continues to add to their department. Asher says that they just brought on a 13 person helitack crew on Monday.
“So, this summer, we will have a flight crew in the back and then we will also have drivers that will follow them.”
For all those who may follow in these footsteps going forward, Bernard has a message for young women:
“Don't be afraid to be different and follow the status quo of you having to sit behind a desk, or having to be behind of a computer. You can do those challenging things.”
May is Wildfire Awareness Month so the KCFD will have preparation tips on their social media platforms all month long.