AudioVision

From Southern California, public radio for your eyes.

Inside SoCal's busiest fire air base

Every time a huge wildfire breaks out in California we see and hear the air tankers. Where do they come from?

For many of Southern California's big fires those planes come from Cal Fire's Air Attack Base in Hemet, Calif., a desert town tucked between Riverside and the mountains of Mt. San Jacinto State Park.

The base has been fighting fires from the air since 1957.

There are 12 bases like this across California strategically located for a 20-minute air response to any fire in the state.

The goal, said Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson, is to keep 90 percent of California's brush fires less than 10 acres.

The base is home to more than 20 pilots, engineers, air technicians and fire fighters that battle blazes from the air. Each person stays at the base for three days at a time every week.

Much of Cal Fire's air fleet is made up of old military aircrafts that have been re-painted and re-configured for use in wildfires.

Days at Hemet's Air Attack Base are quiet until a call comes that's broadcasted from the control tower. Then, it's go-time.

Pilots and commanders jump into airplanes, a hotshot crew loads into a helicopter and a technician starts making fire retardant.

Julie Hutchinson estimated the Hemet base has responded to more than 1,500 fires so far this year.

Recently on AudioVision