Facing wildfires that are hotter, faster and more frequent, fire departments across California are upgrading their critical response equipment, allowing them to operate within the “new normal” of a ceaseless fire season.
In Santa Barbara County, back-to-back disasters – the Thomas Fire and subsequent Montecito debris flow – revealed the acute need for reliable air support.
After rain turned the fire-denuded hillsides into a deadly mudslide that swept through the area on Jan. 9, 2018, air support conducted 26 medical evacuations and 131 hoist operations to rescue people trapped in their homes by flooding and mud flows.
Santa Barbara County’s Vietnam war-era Huey helicopters were pushed to their limits and later grounded for repairs.
The events made clear the need for more suitable aircraft. In 2018, the County purchased a Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopter from the U.S. Army for conversion into a Firehawk – a twin-engine aircraft that features faster flight times, longer fuel cycles and better performance in harsh conditions.
The new Firehawk will not only serve California’s Central Coast but statewide through the mutual aid system, which deploys firefighting resources from other jurisdictions to fires across California.
To help cover the cost of converting the helicopter, Direct Relief this week committed $400,000 to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Direct Relief’s commitment was made possible by the Santa Barbara Vintners Association. In Feb. 2018, six weeks after the Montecito debris flow, the Santa Barbara vintners hosted their biennial wine auction for Direct Relief and dedicated a portion of proceeds to local first responders.
Others can support the Firehawk campaign by visiting directrelief.org/firehawk.