Cal Fire deploys helitack air resources to fight fires

Ian Baird, pilot of the green Bell 407 deployed to the Casino Fire, rises up from dipping water at the reservation's hot spring Monday, July 13. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

The Cal Fire air program is one of the biggest and most experienced aviation programs in the world. Their fleet of over 23 air tankers, 17 air-tactical aircraft and 12 helicopters make it the largest department-owned collection of aerial firefighting equipment anywhere. The agency operates 13 air bases and nine helicopter bases.

The Bell 407 Type III Helicopter is a vital part of the program. These aircraft can seat up to seven people and fly for almost three hours without refueling.

The aircraft has had some major modifications from older models, including a four bladed main rotor system, increased engine performance and slightly expanded inside cabin area. Passenger seating provides places for six persons, excluding the pilot. As with most light helicopters, the Bell 407 can take off and land in relatively small areas.

A Bell 407 speeds away to drop water on a wildland fire. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

This helicopter can be used for a variety of activities including aerial reconnaissance and aerial ignition. For wildland fire use, the Bell 407’s increased speed, lifting capability and improved density altitude performance makes it ideal for initial fire attack.

Cal Fire’s Bell 407 H-535 was flown by Ian Baird, who made multiple drops throughout the afternoon, during the Casino Fire, Monday, July 13. He dipped water from the hot spring on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation and dropped it with precision onto the flames, supporting crews on the ground. The fire was held to less than 100 acres, as Baird worked with other aircraft to battle the flames.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at