Wildfire

Thomas Fire air attack continues

Pilots ready for wind event Wednesday night

Thomas Fire aerial attack continues

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Air tankers and helicopters continue to work the Thomas Fire putting out hot spots with water drops and retardant.

They've been flying around the clock at the Santa Ynez Airport helicopter base and the big air tankers are also flying out of the Air Attack Base at the Santa Maria Airport.

Helicopter and "Super Scooper" water drops on the Thomas Fire have had a more visible role in stopping the Thomas Fire from spreading into the populated areas of Carpinteria, Montecito and Santa Barbara.

There's potential danger for the helicopter pilots flying around the clock for more than two weeks.

"You know you have power lines, it's in an urban interface this wildfire and that's what's so destructive about it", said helicopter pilot Matt Udkow, "you've got high tension lines, you've got wires, poles, you've got other aircraft, but at nighttime they are limited to only two aircraft to be able to control that."

"Tactics and strategy may change depending on the priorities of the fire", said pilot Rick Todd who's flying one of several large air tankers out of Santa Maria Airport, "one of the things that kind of dictates that is visibility, so helicopters can be used in places where there's low visibility or where they can hot spot operations, large air tankers, the work that we're doing, you may not see them out there, that doesn't mean we're not working."

The air tankers are laying tens of thousands of gallons of retardant to help boots on the ground build containment line.

"We can put in literally miles of retardant in a day, miles of fire line", Todd said, "that gives them something to work from where they can fire out from it, crews can go in there and put in the dozer lines and have a safe operating environment."

Having flown tanker drops on the Thomas Fire for the past two weeks, Rick Todd says he's confident the firefight is being won.

"The fire has looked the best I've seen since it began", Todd said, "we could actually see across the whole fire, we could actually see the water, I know they're doing some major firing operations in the next couple of days, I actually feel real good about where they're at and where they're going. If they hold it for the wind episode tomorrow (Wednesday), I think they're going to have it."

Both the helicopter base at the Santa Ynez Airport and the air tanker base at the Santa Maria Airport are expected to remain operational for the Thomas Fire into next week.


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