During the disastrous wildfires that tore through large swaths of the North Bay area of California in October, 2017 two California Highway Patrol helicopter crews heroically rescued 42 residents who were trapped when roads became blocked by fallen trees as winds gusted above 80 mph. One of the helicopters was based in Napa crewed by flight officer Whitney Lowe and pilot Pete Gavitte. A second helicopter joined them from Redding with Officers Chad Millward and Phil Agdeppa. The rescues were conducted at night with the benefit of night vision goggles.
An article at Patch.com has the details. Here is an excerpt:
“What started our rescue efforts was listening to the radio and hearing that there is nobody coming for these people, and then seeing the different blockades in the road, from downed trees to downed wires, and lines of cars that were stopped and entrapped,” Lowe said.
“We were looking from above; having the perfect view of the fire headed their direction … and thinking ‘They have no idea,'” he said.
Once they found somewhere suitable to land, Lowe recalls jumping out of the helicopter and running a quarter-mile down to a line of cars full of people trapped by fire.
“I started telling the people in cars, ‘There is a huge fire and it’s coming this direction, you guys are trapped in three different places between here and safety at the bottom of the hill. If you guys want, come up to the helicopter and we’ll start evacuating you guys.’ And so that is what we did.”
In groups of one to four, multiple families were flown to safety at Monticello Road and Atlas Peak Road. When fire encroached that area, the families were evacuated to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.
“That is what we did for the next 8-1/2 hours,” Lowe said. “We never shut the helicopter off, just refueled.”
“Throughout the night we were able to rescue 26 people, and they [the Redding crew] were able to rescue another 16 people,” Lowe said.
After the smoke cleared the four officers received multiple medals of valor.