Cal Fire Helicopter Tanker Leaving Napa County Amid Quiet Wildfire Season

Sept. 27, 2023

Sep. 26—Two helicopter tankers used by Cal Fire — including one based at Napa County Airport — will leave the North Bay for the season this week amid a quiet summer for local wildfires, the state agency reported.

The helicopters being withdrawn by Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit on Thursday include a Boeing CH-47D Chinook, which is owned by Columbia Helicopters of Oregon and has been stationed at the Napa airport since June 15. Also leaving the area is a Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane, which is owned by Yuba City-based Siller Brothers and has been on call since July 1 at Sonoma Air Attack Base in Santa Rosa.

Together, the choppers have been sent to 102 vegetation fires this summer, including 54 fires for the Napa-based aircraft, Cal Fire said in a news release Tuesday.

"The ability of our aerial resources to respond to a fire within minutes anywhere in the unit is a huge advantage to our communities," Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit Chief Mike Marcucci said in the statement. "They give us an advantage to try to hold a fire at a smaller size until our firefighters on the ground are able to get to it."

Through Sunday, the Cal Fire unit reported responding to 286 wildfires this year, with only 564 total acres burned. Only 13 of those fires spread beyond 10 acres — the size the agency seeks to keep fires below 95% of the time.

Sonoma- Lake- Napa has reported only 4,329 acres burned in 1,323 fires since 2021 — a far cry from the devastation of 2020, when the LNU Lightning Complex and the Glass Fire contributed to the burning of 434,025 acres, and the destruction of homes, wineries and businesses around Lake Berryessa and outside St. Helena.

Marcucci credited increased state firefighting funds with helping prevent further major disasters in the three years since, as well as relatively mild summer weather that followed drought-busting rains at the beginning of the year.

Four aircraft remain available to Cal Fire for firefighting in the North Bay, according to the agency — two air tankers and a tactical aircraft in Santa Rosa, and a helicopter at Boggs Mountain in Lake County.


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