Forest Service Enlisting Night-Flying Helicopter to Fight Fires

Powerhouse Fire/ Photo: Courtesy Zak Holman

The U.S. Forest Service will begin using night-flying helicopters to fight fires over the Angeles National Forest this month. These operations were previously not available due to restrictions put in place in the 1970s following a tragic helicopter crash.

"The restoration of this capability by the Forest Service -- though long overdue -- could not come at a more critical time, with one wildfire burning across Southern California and more expected throughout the summer," Representative Adam Schiff of Burbank said in a press release.

A fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter will be deployed this week to fight fires across the Los Angeles region. The helicopter will be used for dropping water and flame-retardant on fires but the Forest Service plans to eventually use it for emergency medical transport and aerial management as well, according to KABC.

The decision to allow the helicopter follows studies that indicate helicopter night operations can keep down the risks and costs of wildfires.

"Attacking wildfires at night from the air -- when temperatures and winds are down and humidity is up -- is an important tool, so resumption of Forest Service flights comes not a moment too soon," Senator Dianne Feinstein stated.

Controversy over the ban came to a head after the 2009 Station Fire. The Forest Service was subject of public criticism and congressional inquiries for how it handled controlling the blaze shortly after it began. It scorched 250 square miles in the Angeles National Forest, becoming the largest in L.A. County history.

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