In a blazing demonstration of interagency cooperation, six fire agencies executed a successful night time aerial fire drill on June 5.
Ten helicopters and five fire departments touched down at Tehachapi Municipal Airport, prepared to execute a nightlong exercise that involved putting out a controlled fire at Cummings Ranch.
The drill, held for many years in Orange County, is the first time that Kern County hosted the event. It involved the use of night vision goggles in order to help pilots pinpoint where to drop water obtained at Brite Lake.
"The agenda was to go out and practice dropping water on a wildland fire," said Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall.
Both air and ground crews participated in the event. Ground support provided directions for the fire pilots making the water drops.
"It's a communication between the ground crews and the helicopter pilots," Marshall said.
Pilots utilize night vision goggles as part of the exercise, a $12,000 piece of equipment Marshall said is extremely beneficial.
"It takes the starlight, the moonlight and the light from the fire and magnifies vision so they can actually see the ground, see the windmills and terrain features so they can fly (at night) like they do during the day," Marshall said.
Pilots utilized Brite Lake as a filling up point for water used in the drops. According to Brandon Hill from the Kern County Fire Department, crews filled helicopters on the ground instead of executing dipping motions off the lake's surface from the air.
At Cummings Ranch, ground crews were on hand to render support and to control the perpetual fire they set. Kern County fire trucks and crews were out in force, along with agencies from Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura, Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.
Marshall, Kern's fire chief, noted the training was invaluable to all participating parties.
"Every agency has to train its firefighters and its pilots to make sure they're ready to go when the alarm goes off," Marhsall said. "The financial impact is not that much, but the training value you can't place a price tag on.
The fire drill underscored another element: preparing for another dry season. Marshall said every summer can be potentially devastating for California when it comes to fires. Three years of drought have not helped much.
"The drought has really made the fire season more dangerous," Marshall.
County and city officials remind property owners of the need to do clearances with the deadline of June 15.