CAL FIRE expects to have seven new Firehawk helicopters in operation this year

The Governor’s proposed budget for next fiscal year asks for 16 additional firefighting hand crews

CAL FIRE's new i70 Firehawk helicopter
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i Firehawk, helicopter 205, being tested at Centennial, Colorado May 7, 2020. Photo by @skippyscage.

The California Governor’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes funding to continue making arrangements for the seven C-130H aircraft that are being converted to air tankers and continuing the replacement of their Huey helicopters.

New Helicopters

Funds to replace CAL FIRE’s 12 Vietnam War-era Huey helicopters with new Siskorsky S70i Firehawks have already been received and allocated. Three new ships have been deployed so far, and it is estimated that four more will be put into operation sometime during the 2021 fire season (for a total of seven). CAL FIRE expects to put the remaining five helicopters into operation in 2022.

C-130H air tankers

The Budget includes $48.4 million to support the phasing in of seven large air tankers, C-130Hs. The 2019 and 2020 Budget Acts included funding for the aircraft that will be transferred from the federal government starting in 2021-22. The air tankers, currently owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, are being retrofitted by the U.S. Air Force utilizing $150 million in federal funding. CAL FIRE is continuing to prepare for the arrival of these aircraft by training and certifying new dedicated flight crews and mechanics, and cross‑training and certifying its existing pilots to fly the aircraft to assist firefighters. CAL FIRE is working with its federal partners to meet the expected 2021-22 arrival of the air tankers.

More hand crews

The Governor is asking for 16 additional firefighting hand crews. He also wants to establish 14 more California Conservation Corps (CCC) crews that are often assigned at incident command posts on fires to assist with Logistics and other support functions.

The budget document says, “The fire crews will enable CAL FIRE to respond to larger and more damaging wildfires throughout the fire season and complete priority fuel reduction projects to reduce wildfire risk in fire-threatened areas.”

One of the justifications for the additional personnel was the “existing population trends” in prisons that has reduced the number of inmates available for firefighting.

Forest Health

The Budget also includes $1 billion for a comprehensive package of resources to increase the pace and scale of forest health activities and decrease fire risk, including $581 million for CAL FIRE in 2020-21 and 2021-22.


The budget also includes $5 million to provide a research grant to California State University, San Marcos to study enhanced firefighting equipment and strategies to protect firefighters from conditions present during wildfires in the wildland urban interface. 

What’s next

The Governor’s proposed budget will be considered by the legislature and will be subject to modifications before a final budget is passed.

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4 thoughts on “CAL FIRE expects to have seven new Firehawk helicopters in operation this year”

  1. Moving the State fire agency into new platforms, especially when they are significantly larger, more complex and much more expensive has been a very tough row to hoe for the operations, financial/ legislative, maintenance and the helitack crews/ support people. It is one thing for the citizens of CA to see the shiny new equipment and another to have an inkling of the years of work by State employees, private sector partners and federal agencies that went into making it finally happen. Kudos to all of them. Having said that I have to question something…..replacing the Hueys? Really? I haven’t heard much about what will happen to them and as old as they are they are not close to needing to go to the boneyard. Being FEPP, they can only be operated by fire agencies that the USFS sees fit to distribute them to, hopefully in cooperation with CAL FIRE. Over the years, many millions have been spent on them, all paid for by the citizens of CA. No mistake, the DOA owns them and can do as they please with them. I think it would be proper if they stayed in State or went to bordering sate fire agencies. I would hope that CAL FIRE might see wisdom in keeping at least some of them in service for initial attack, movement of supplies, training, hoist rescue and personnel movement when the big iron is working the mega fires that seem to be the new normal. The hoists in the Hueys can also be used in the S70i with some additional adapers. 3 million dollars worth of hoists and equiplent should stay with the State even if the Hueys do go elsewhere. I’m just one citizen but in the spirit of voting early I cast mine for keeping at least 6 of them in State, of CA livery. Without being sentimental, replacing the Huey is an oxymoron. There may be a spec of truth in the joke about the last Blackhawk crew in the army being picked up in a Huey.

  2. The wildland fire aviation paradox, as aircraft get bigger, so do the fires. Glad I’m not a taxpayer in CA. I understand the need, to a certain extent. In favor of the CCC, good work for a lot of folks.

  3. Let’s march out Jeff’s logic: Would tanker aircraft get smaller if fires got smaller? Would then the smaller tankers get less expensive?

    I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say that fire and weather (weather, weather, weather, weather, whether (it’s hot or it’s cold), do not care what how big, or how small, your tankers are.

    1. Tongue and cheek, just as observation that fires seemed to get Mega, around the time the DC-10 and 747 first started. Now, as CALFIRE’s incidents are getting bigger, they’re getting bigger air tankers and bigger helicopters. The dilemma is that with bigger aircraft, the fires would seemingly be kept smaller. Now the brush starts to build up again. The cycle continues.

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