Due to the frequency and severity of wildfires in California, the state has elected to establish its own aerial firefighting force rather than rely solely on national resources. The Aviation Management Program is based at McClellan Airfield near Sacramento, California.
In support of its ground forces, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) emergency response air program includes 23 Grumman S-2T 1,200 gallon airtankers, eleven UH-1H Super Huey helicopters, and 14 OV-10A airtactical aircraft. These aircraft are stationed at 13 air attack and 10 helitack
bases located statewide, and can reach most fires within 20 minutes.
During high fire activity, CAL FIRE may move aircraft to better provide
statewide air support.
The airtactical planes fly overhead at a fire, directing the airtankers and helicopters to critical areas of the fire for retardant
and water drops. The retardant used to slow or retard the spread of a
fire is a slurry mix consisting of a chemical salt compound, water, clay
or a gum-thickening agent, and a coloring agent. While both air tankers
and helicopters are equipped to carry fire retardant or water, the
helicopters can also transport firefighters, equipment and injured
The average annual budget of the CAL FIRE Aviation Management Program
is nearly $20 million. A total of 18 CAL FIRE personnel oversee the
program with an additional 130 contract employees providing mechanical,
pilot and management services.
CAL FIRE's current support contractors are DynCorp
and Logistics Specialties Incorporated (LSI). DynCorp provides
airtanker and airtactical aircraft pilot services, and all aircraft
maintenance services. All CAL FIRE helicopters are flown by CAL FIRE
pilots. LSI provides procurement and parts management services.