Fire In The Pass

Stef called this evening. She is in Hollywood watching a fire burning just west of her. Not normally a TV news viewer, she found this very compelling. Fire coverage in Los Angeles is well choreographed.

There was a time when Channels 3 and 8 had helicopters here in Connecticut. Very expensive. Too expensive¹. Gone.

The expectation of TV helicopters in Los Angeles is so high they might as well be considered required! Some days it’s like there’s a broadcasters Air Force overhead!

When the market is so much larger in area and revenue it’s easier to amortize the copter’s immense cost. The L.A. stations use theirs every day–often enough to be proficient.

The copters are up and doing themselves proud this afternoon. There is a brush fire along the 405 in Sepulveda Pass. That’s the scene of LA’s infamous “Carmageddon,” a potential traffic tie-up so monumental everyone stayed away. The 405 (actually I-405) is the main gateway from L.A. to the Valley.

The fire is newsworthy because of the 405, because the Getty Museum is nearby and because the fire threatens homes in Bel Air (where the current average real estate listing is $3.7 million).

I had KCBS-TV’s live stream on for a while until I realized FoxCT’s co-owned sister station KTLA was also available. They have both done an exemplary job. Both have a bunch of ground based cameras aimed at the fire, plus a chopper.

The real show is Los Angeles Fire Department’s version of an Air Force: five firefighting helicopters on-scene plus two Bombardier CL415 Superscoopers leased from Quebec for the brush fire season. Each holds 1,620 gallons of water–seawater scooped from the Pacific.

Both stations’ copters captured the firefighting aircraft hugging the ground then dropping their loads while flying into a blinding column of smoke and steam. Air-to-air video with image stabilized cameras is a thing of beauty.

Firefighters on-the-ground and in-the-air made quick work of this blaze. When I tuned in flames dominated. When I left they had been beaten down. There will be dozens of small fires like this in Southern California this year. A few larger ones too.

If there was news like this every night more people would watch TV.

Photos are clickable for a larger version.

¹ – I always thought the money would have been better spent on hiring more reporters/photographers. No one asked for my opinion.

3 Responses to “Fire In The Pass”

  1. Lou Lange says:

    Those pictures from CBS 2 and FOX 5 are spectacular! They have had plenty of practice. Let’s hope they rest some rest soon!
    I also hope Steph stays out of that path.

  2. Diane K says:

    I lived in CA for a few years. My parents are presently in Santa Clarita so I know those fires very well. Sometimes they go on for days. A simple thing like someone throwing a match out the car window or a cigarette is all it takes to ignite. And then sometimes just the dry heat ignites the dry brush and the fires spread so rapidly they become difficult to control. You have to admire the firefighters in that area. They are among the hardest working people I have ever seen.

  3. KE4GNK says:

    Minor point–they try to avoid using salt water–it corrodes the plane and poisons the land. They only do that if nothing else is available.

    Typically they scoop from a fresh-water lake or reservoir, which is a spectacular thing to see. They basically skim the surface at speed, and load the water in flight. When the tanks are full, water overflows out vents in the plane’s fuselage, and then they pull up and go around. Takes a surprisingly short run, and it’s totally hairy flying they do, especially if the lake is a short one. They fly a steep approach, and hard pull-outs to do it, usually dealing with obstructions at BOTH ends of the run…

    THe Helos either dunk a basket, or hover with a hose that has a powerful pump on the end in the water to fill the tanks. Scary enough, as they have to increase power in the hover to compensate for the load, without pulling the pump out of the water. Also takes a surprisingly short time to do.

    The water drops are spectacular enough, but the real wild flying happens when the super scoopers are loading the water in flight.

    Looks like ballet as the scooppers make their runs on a lake…helos look like a bunch of mosquitos…

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