LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to consider buying or leasing more firefighting aircraft and take a closer look at how aerial resources are deployed statewide.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger recommended the review, saying she hoped to expand the county’s fleet of fixed-wing craft and helicopters, possibly in partnership with the state.
Her motion calls for a review of whether the aerial fleet is adequate given “more extreme fire behavior” created by dry brush, long droughts, fierce Santa Ana winds and a virtually year-round fire season. Fires are covering distances in hours that used to take days to burn, Barger noted.
The last such review was completed in October 2016.
The board also directed staffers to look at how state resources are deployed and prioritized when multiple fires are underway.
“When several fast-moving fires burn through various regions in California, the mutual aid system may be challenged to meet the demand, especially for critically needed air resources,” according to the motion.
L.A. County had to turn down a request for help in fighting the Camp Fire in Northern California because of extreme fire danger here, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby told the board last week. And crews in the north battling that deadly blaze were unable to lend resources to the south.
Osby said then that the department has two more Sikorsky helicopters on order and scheduled for delivery next year, but the department needs more aircraft that can be flown at night.
“We’re (using) the only aircraft around that has night-flying capability,” Osby said. “As you could see, we need more. But we were out there flying until we couldn’t fly anymore.”
Fixed-wing aircraft cannot fly when wind speeds exceed 100 mph.
When Ventura County called for help with the Woolsey Fire, which originated across the county line on Nov. 8, Los Angeles County assigned four air squads, two Super Scoopers, one helitender and one helitanker, in addition to ground crews and support, according to a major incident report filed by Osby.
The county owns its fleet of Sikorsky S-70 Firehawks and Bell 412 helicopters and leases larger equipment like an Erickson Aircrane helitanker and two Bombardier CL-415 Super Scoopers.
The department had originally planned to release an Erickson Aircrane helitanker at the end of its lease term on Nov. 12. To battle the Woolsey Fire and manage other fire danger, that lease was extended to Nov. 26. The Super Scoopers are leased from Quebec through Nov. 29.
A report is expected back in 90 days.