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Firefighters Battle Western U.S. Wildfires


A firefighter watches fire in the San Bernardino National Forest in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

A firefighter watches fire in the San Bernardino National Forest in San Bernardino County, California, U.S. August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Gene Blevins


This week, a fast-moving fire forced American officials to order the removal of more than 82,000 people from an area north of San Bernardino, California.

Twelve hours after the fire began, it had already burned more than 6,000 hectares. Because of the fire and smoke, officials closed roads, including part of the one that connects the Los Angeles area and Las Vegas, Nevada.

Firefighters battle flames as a house burns in Lower Lake, Calif., on Aug. 14, 2016. The fire reached Main Street in Lower Lake, a town of about 1,200 about 90 miles north of San Francisco

Firefighters battle flames as a house burns in Lower Lake, Calif., on Aug. 14, 2016. The fire reached Main Street in Lower Lake, a town of about 1,200 about 90 miles north of San Francisco

Hundreds of people are working to contain the fire. The job is even more difficult because of the hot, windy, and dry weather.

Wildfires are common in the western United States during the warm summer months.

In northern and central California, wildfires have destroyed more than 100 structures. The fires have forced more than 1,000 people to flee from their homes.

Four years of drought — little or no rainfall — has helped fires spread in northern California. There are six major fires still burning in California and others burning throughout the West.

In Los Angeles, many homes are just a short drive from wilderness areas. The drought conditions make the dry plants and grasses catch fire quickly. But officials say they are ready to fight the seasonal fires with newly-leased aircraft.

These include helicopters known as “super-scoopers,” which are able to collect water supplies without landing.

VOA spoke with fire officials and pilots near the aircraft.

Richard Licon is with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

"(On) rivers, lakes, they can scoop up the water and be ready to go and fight fire continuously without having to ground (land) unless they have to refuel."

The huge helicopter carries 10,000 liters of water. But it takes skill to fly it through fire areas. Natalie Jones knows this. As a pilot, it is her job to fly the helicopter and help put out fires.

"We're in an environment that's inherently dangerous to begin with, so making sure that you can see other aircraft in the flight path, in the area around you, and making sure you have good communications, safety first with everything. And making sure that we're not dropping water on anything that's going to harm anybody below us."

She and other pilots wait to be called into action in Los Angeles. They talk about the issues around keeping themselves, firefighters and their equipment ready for the fires they know will come.

An air tanker drops fire retardant at a containment line northeast of Lower Lake, Calif.

An air tanker drops fire retardant at a containment line northeast of Lower Lake, Calif.

Paul Gottwig is with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

"It's very difficult, given the amount of pilots that you have, to continue 24-hour operations, rotate those pilots through rest periods, rotate them back onto the fire, is one of the biggest challenges. Also, another big challenge for helicopters and all the airplanes is maintenance, keeping the aircraft flying continuously."

In northern and central California, officials say the fire season could continue until November. But in the southern part of the state, the season could last even longer because of the current drought.

I’m Anne Ball.

Mike O’Sullivan and Chris Hannas reported this story for VOANews.com. Anne Ball wrote it for Learning English. Her report included information from the Associated Press. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

drought – n. a dry period in the weather with little or no rainfall

lease – v. agreement that lets someone use a car, plane or house for a period of time in return for payment

rotate – v. regularly change the person who does a job so that each takes the place of another in a group

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