NORTH HIGHLANDS (CBS13) – As the sun sets at McClellan Field, aerial firefighting crews find themselves forced to land much earlier than just a few months ago.
“After daylight savings, it gets tough because we’re trying to fit a lot of work into shortened hours,” said Bryce Mitchell, a flight officer with Sacramento Metro Fire.
Metro Fire’s helicopter was one of the aircraft dispatched to the Camp Fire in Butte County, dropping water about 15 times.
But for safety reasons, they can’t drop on fires after sunset. During the height of fire season, that’s around 8:30 p.m.
This time of year, it’s much earlier.
“Today cutoff time was at 4:30 p.m., so that means we get a lot limitations as far as how much progress we can make on a fire in that shortened period of time,” Mitchell said.
From the air, these firefighters get a unique perspective on just how dry conditions still are across Northern California.
“We haven’t had any good, wet rain yet, so we still have some pretty dry fuels out there,” Mitchell said.
The helicopter crew does have helmet-mounted night vision goggles they can use in rescue situations, like during winter flooding.
“Our job doesn’t end at night, we still have crews on call ready for any potential incidents,” Mitchell said.
There is no break in sight for these flight crews as they brace for more dry days in the fall forecast.
“We’ve been getting busier every single year, and every single season we seem to extend it farther and do more work,” Mitchell said.
The flight crews are hoping to return to the fire lines tomorrow at first light, but they could be hampered by thick smoke or strong winds.