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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Forest Service helicopters return to the sky after dark to fight fires

A helicopter fights to save a house in La Crescenta in 2009
A helicopter fights to save a house in La Crescenta in 2009 Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

 

After years of pressure from Congress, the U.S. Forest Service has put into service a specially equipped helicopter that can fight fires after dark.

It marks the first time in more than three decades that Southern California firefighters are getting federal help in the sky at night.

Forest Service helicopters have been grounded at night since a pair of firefighting choppers crashed in 1977.

But Congressman Adam Schiff says it was "increasingly hard to defend why they thought it was safe to call on L.A. County and L.A. City to do night time drops, but it wasn't safe enough for them to do it."

The Burbank Democrat says there was concern over the cost of acquiring and maintaining aircraft, and having a second crew to fly night time hours.

"But of course, as we saw with the Station Fire, the cost of letting a fire get out of control when you have a chance of putting it down early far outweighs the cost of investing in night time capabilities," said Schiff.

The 2009 Station Fire—by acreage, the largest wildfire in L.A. County history—drove home the need for the Forest Service to use its helicopters to drop water and fire retardant after dark.

Critics say the lack of Fore Service air support allowed the Station Fire to grow out of control. Two firefighters were killed escaping from the flames when their vehicle crashed down a hill. The fire also destroyed dozens of homes.

The Forest Service Bell Super 205 helicopter will be housed in Lancaster. 

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