This past weekend, the governor of California called the Northern California wildfires “one of the greatest tragedies California has ever faced.” And even as we record this today, nine days after the fires started, over 11,000 firefighters are still on the front lines, fighting these fires. You’ve probably seen news reports showing some of the dozens of airtankers and helicopters that are fighting the fires. But most people are unaware that the California Highway Patrol runs one of the largest law enforcement aviation operations in the country, both in number of aircraft and hours flown. And that those aircraft, flown by CHP officer/pilots, have been heavily involved in fire-related activities.
Late on a Sunday night, on October 8, 2017, CHP officer/pilot Jan Sears was returning from a routine patrol in one of the department’s GippsAero GA-8 Airvan airplanes, when he spotted a faint flicker in the dark hills. He told his partner, Flight Officer Todd Labadie that it might not be anything, but that they should fly over and take a look. Jan picks up the story from there and describes how he and other CHP officers have support the fire relief efforts, including air rescues of over 50 people from within the fires.
You can find more information about CHP here, and on the CHP Golden Gate Division Air Operations’ Facebook page. It includes a link to this story that ran on the CBS Evening News, about Pepe Tamayo, a father who had to stay behind because there was only room for four people in the CHP helicopter. CHP made two return trips before they found Pepe and rescued him too.
In our interview, Jan Sears referred to an article in LA Times titled Understaffed and overwhelmed, rescuers had to make life-and-death choices as wildfires rages.
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