Crescent City, California
June 13, 2021
Initially it surprised me that a state would have such a large organization to fight fires. But then I experienced the vastness of the Northern California forests and now I understand.
Has there already been a tv show entitled “Cal Fire?” If not, it sure is a ready-for-tv name. But I can see how filming action scenes would be difficult. 🤪
The facts about Cal Fire:
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) is a fire department of the California Natural Resources Agency in California. It is responsible for fire protection in various areas under state responsibility totaling 31 million acres, as well as the administration of the state's private and public forests. In addition, the department provides varied emergency services in 36 of the state's 58 counties via contracts with local governments.
CAL FIRE respond's to an average of more than 5,800 wildland fires each year, in the last five years those fires burn an average of 446,960 acres annually. In the 2020 California Fire Season alone, 4,257,863 acres of land burned in the state. In total, the department responds to over 500,000 annual calls for service, only 2% of which are wildland fires. The primary job of Cal Fire is to provide fire protection for the state responsibility area (SRA). SRA lands are defined by the Public Resource Code of the state of California first, as, "covered wholly or in part by forests or by trees producing or capable of producing forest products. Second, they are "those covered wholly or in part by timber, brush, undergrowth, or grass, whether of commercial value or not, which protect the soil from excessive erosion, retard runoff of water or accelerate water percolation, if such lands are sources of water which is available for irrigation or for domestic or industrial use." Finally, they are "lands in areas which are principally used or useful for range or forage purposes, which are contiguous to" the lands described above. The State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection determines what lands are included in the SRA and their decisions have the force of law. (California Public Resource Code Section 4126).
Cal Fire operations fit into two categories: Schedule "A" and Schedule "B". Schedule "B" is defined as state funded, which deals with fires within the state's responsibility areas, which are primarily wildland fires. Schedule "A" activities (Local govt funded) include county and municipal fire departments, as well as fire protection districts run by Cal Fire under contracts with local governments. From north to south, Butte, Napa, San Mateo, Tuolumne, Merced, San Luis Obispo, Riverside, and San Diego counties are examples of county fire departments operated by Cal Fire under contract.
To enforce state fire and forest laws, Cal Fire law enforcement officers are trained and certified in accordance with the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). The Office of the State Fire Marshal provides assistance when requested by local fire and law enforcement agencies in arson, bomb, fireworks, and fire extinguisher investigations, as well as disposal of explosives. Office of the State Fire Marshal Arson and Bomb Specialists provide fire and bomb investigation services to state-owned facilities, and provide assistance to local government fire and law agencies.
In conjunction with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Cal Fire uses thousands of incarcerated firefighters at 44 conservation camps throughout the state on fire prevention, fire suppression, and various maintenance and conservation projects. Cal Fire works with employees of the California Conservation Corps since that agency's creation in a partnership for fire suppression duties, logistics and forestry management. CCC corpsmembers are involved in job training programs as Type 1 Hand Crew firefighters, supervised by CalFire personnel, in increasing prevalence to offset CDCR inmates as the incarcerated firefighter program is closed. Programs to control wood boring insects and diseases of trees are under forestry programs managed by Cal Fire. The vehicle fleet is managed from an office in Davis, California.
Cal Fire uses various apparatus to accomplish their daily responses. Engines fall under two categories, either being state-owned — mostly wildland, or city/county owned, which Cal Fire operates under contract.
For the wildland portion, most engines are manufactured with West-Mark or Westates (now American Truck & Fire Apparatus) bodies on an International chassis. Commonly seen models of wildland engines include the Model 14, and 15. CDF Models 24 and 25 were test-bed models, with only a few of each model fielded. The newest versions of these engines are CDF model 34 (4WD) and 35 (2WD), manufactured by Placer Fire Equipment, Rosenbauer, and HME. Model 34/35's are currently being fielded statewide. As of 2009 Model 35's have been discontinued and Model 34's from BME Apparatus are the new standard. Fact sheets on all of Cal Fire's current-service Type 3 (wildland) engine models can be found on the Cal Fire Web site under Mobile Equipment.
Cal Fire owns its own fleet of air tankers, tactical aircraft and helicopters, which are managed under the Aviation Management Program. Additional aviation resources are leased by the department when needed. All of the fixed wing aircraft, while owned by Cal Fire, are piloted and maintained by DynCorp International. The Cal FireAir Program is one of the largest non-military air programs in the country, consisting of 23 Grumman S-2T 1,200 gallon airtankers, 14 OV-10A airtactical aircraft and 12 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters. From the 13 air attack and 10 helitack bases located statewide, aircraft can reach most fires within 20 minutes.
Aircraft are a prominent feature of Cal Fire, especially during the summer fire season. Both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft are employed. Helicopters, or rotary-wing aircraft, are used to transport firefighting "Helitack Crews" into fire areas. They also drop water and retardant chemicals on fires. Fixed-wing aircraft are used for command, observation, and to drop retardant chemicals on fires.
Cal Fire has contracted with 10 Tanker Air Carrier for three years' of exclusive use of their McDonnell Douglas DC-10 "super tanker" known as Tanker 910, at a cost of $5 million per year. Additional access is also provided to Tanker 911 and Tanker 912. In 2014 "Tanker 910" was retired and the company operates 2 other DC-10 "Super Tankers", Tanker 911 and 912
On October 7, 2014, a Cal Fire S-2T air tanker crashed while fighting the Dog Rock Fire in Yosemite National Park. The pilot was killed.