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US Forest Service OKs Chopper To Fight Wildfires At Night

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(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The U.S. Forest Service will soon be helping Southland firefighters with a specifically equipped helicopter to combat wildfires at night.

KNX 1070’s Ed Mertz reports the decision comes four years after that option was not available to the Forest Service during the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County history.

Due to a restriction put in place by the Forest Service in the 1970s following a tragic helicopter crash in the Angeles National Forest, the agency has not employed night flights, and has instead relied upon other local agencies to supply these firefighting tools when available.

But after the Station Fire killed two firefighters, destroyed 89 homes and scorched 160,000 acres in 2009, questions remained as to whether such a capability might have helped contain the flames on the critical first night of the fire.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and other legislators requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the federal response, which concluded that the Forest Service both failed to use all potentially available aircraft early in the blaze and needed to develop a strategy for when night missions should be flown.

In response to the report, the agency took steps to expand night flying, including the use of turbine-powered single-engine night-flying aircraft, including helicopters, which had previously been prohibited.

Schiff told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO the latest decision to use dedicated choppers around the county could prove critical ahead of what is expected to be a very challenging fire season.

“If that helicopter can get out early and put down a fire in its infancy at night and prevent it from getting away, it could’ve saved [in the case of the Station Fire] the lives of two firefighters…all the destruction of that forest and property,” Schiff said, adding, “So it’s a small investment when you consider the cost when those fires get out of control.”

The helicopter and its crew will be based out of Fox Field in Lancaster beginning this week.

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