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Tuesday, Jun 03 2014 09:29 AM

Major fire drill commences Thursday night

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Helicopters began to arrive at Tehachapi Municipal Airport on Thursday afternoon, June 5, in preparation for a major firefighting training exercise. Photo courtesy of Greg Garrett, City of Tehachapi

Tehachapi area residents hearing helicopters whizzing by and firefighters active out at Cummings Ranch on Thursday night, June 5, will find a major Southern California exercise in their midst.

The Kern County Fire Department, in partnership with several other fire agencies, will be conducting a night goggle fire vision drill. Crews will be out at Cummings Ranch and at Brite Lake and establish their incident command center at Tehachapi Municipal Airport.

According to Scott Beck, a fire pilot with the Kern County Fire Department, said that the major operation, months in the planning, pays huge dividends for county firefighters, especially with a particularly dry fire season.

“In the fire world, this is a huge thing so it's an honor for us to be able to put this on,” Beck said during a briefing at the May 22 Tehachapi-Cummings Water District board meeting.

Beck said that hand crews from Kern, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, and fire suppression crews will be on site at the Cummings Ranch burn site.

Helicopters and other aircraft will arrive at the airport beginning around 2 p.m. Briefings (for fire crews) will begin that afternoon, with night flights beginning after sunset, or 8:45 p.m. The drills will continue until 1 a.m., Friday, June 6.

While Cummings Ranch (which is private property) and the part of Tehachapi Airport used as a command center will be off limits to everyone but drill participants, support staff and observers, Brite Lake campgrounds will still be open to the public.

While Kern County doesn't usually conduct night firefighting operations, they do train for it regularly, Beck said. Most night operations are rescue hoists.

Crews will utilize night vision goggles as part of the training.

Orange County has hosted the event for the last four years.

Kern offered to host the event for 2014. Participating agencies include the City of Los Angeles Fire Department, the LA County Fire Department, the Orange County Fire Authority, the U.S. Fire Service, Cal Fire, the San Bernardino County Sheriff/Fire and the Ventura Sheriff/Fire Department.
A controlled burn site has been set up at Cummings Valley, with Brite Lake acting as the dipping station.

Beck added that some people may have a great view of helicopters scooping up water and possibly of the fire suppression efforts itself.

“The beauty of this is that we get to do this in a trained environment to help us (fight fires) when it's not a controlled environment,” Beck said.

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