Santa Ynez Airport becomes a helibase for helicopters fighting Thomas Fire

Santa Ynez Airport becomes a helibase...

SANTA YNEZ, Calif. - For pilot Matt Udkow seeing all of the firefighting helicopters at the Santa Ynez airport brings him joy.

"It's almost like being a kid in a candy shop when you look around and see all the different helicopters," he said. 

Udkow helps fly Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit's Huey Helicopter that served back in Vietnam.

His team is one of two agencies that have been fighting the Thomas Fire at night. ​"There's particular constraints why we do fly at night basically if there's lives or property that are in danger," Udkow explained. 

So far they've flown for 11 days and completed over 35 hours of night flying.

Flying at night however has more elements of danger than flying during the day."You know you have power lines, it's in an urban interface this wildfire and that's what's so destructive about it. You got high tensions lines, wires, poles, you got other aircraft but at night time they're limited to only two aircraft to be able to control that," Udkow said. 

Crews say the air support units like these are absolutely vital to fighting the Thomas Fire.

"Reconnaissance, water dropping, transport troops,they can move people from the helibase like this to helaspots, recruit transport - put people where they need em and move equipment in. Those are four of the big things we use them for," Public Information Officer James Stone said. 

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