CAL FIRE’s aviation program at Hemet-Ryan

Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base
Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base. Google Earth.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise has an interesting article by Brian Rokos about CAL FIRE’s aviation program, and specifically the pilots and aircraft at the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in southern California (map). Mr. Rokos goes into some depth, exploring how the aviation program is managed and the experience of the pilots at Hemet-Ryan.

Below are the first few paragraphs of the article:

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“Cliff Walters has a photo on the wall of his home in the San Bernardino Mountains showing him making a spectacular water drop on a brush fire from the Super Huey helicopter he pilots for Cal Fire. Framed with the photo is a handwritten note from schoolchildren thanking Walters for saving their homes.

Mike Venable also pilots a firefighting aircraft that brings out the shutterbugs: a Cal Fire airplane that can drop up to 1,200 gallons of orange-red fire retardant as it swoops through canyons and skims over treetops.

But the veteran pilots based at Cal Fire’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base say daredevils need not apply. Their jobs are shaped by calculated decisions – often made on their own – that weigh risk vs. reward in the race to put out flames that threaten lives and property.

“Maybe you have to make it look like (you are) a daredevil, but everything is controlled,” said Walters, 50.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more conservative,” said Venable, 55. “Everybody wants to come home to their families at night. Taking an unacceptable risk is going to jeopardize that.”…  “