As wildfires ravaged San Diego County, the U.S. military stepped in, offering man power and equipment in the fight against the fires.
On Friday the military had 19 helicopters ready to attack several fires. The mission: to provide a strong defense against stubborn wildfires. And, for many of the Marines aiding the effort, it's personal.
A closer look reveals what a water drop looks like from inside a military helicopter that can unleash 900 gallons of water on a wildfire when they get the call.
The crew inside is just back from Afghanistan. Col. Will Hooper with 3rd Aircraft Wing Operations said that when it comes to fighting fires here, his crew is well prepared.
“Trust me the conditions in Afghanistan were quite remarkably difficult,” he said.
Hooper sits in the command center with Cal Fire at Camp Pendleton and gives the order to use these helicopters at their request.
But there are considerations when these birds fly.
There must be enough airspace for these helicopters – the CH 53 Echo, the UH 1 Yankee Super Huey and the CH46 Sea Knight – to maneuver safely with other air assets. And the right wind conditions to allow drops as heavy as 7,500 pounds.
“So we can avoid hurting anybody or damage anything with our drops,” explained Sgt. Tim Eboch, part of the helicopter crew.
Of course, smoke reduces visibility, something you need when you are fighting fires in a mountainous area.
“The weather inside the fire can be a little dicey,” explained Marine Pilot Capt. Matt Recker.
Recker grew up in Fallbrook.
He says this fire fight is personal as fire over took his community years ago.
“A lot of my neighbors’ homes burned down in 2002,” he recalled.
Recker more than understands the value of this Cal Fire and U.S. military partnership.
“Now seeing not only how far the military and Cal Fire has come but to be the guy to get that phone call is pretty amazing,” he said.
Because for the military this is more than using their firefighting capability, this is about protecting their community.
“When we’re out there fighting these fires, we’re not just fighting for San Diego County, we’re fighting for our neighbors, our friends, our families,” added Hooper.