Santa Anas push SoCal fire to almost 2500 acres

Officials issued evacuation orders yesterday after a brushfire took off in southern California’s Ventura County. The South Fire burned over 2400 acres by Saturday evening, according to Ventura County Fire Department.

KCAL News reported that heavy winds were pushing the fire.

Santa Anas December 10 2023
Santa Anas December 10 2023

“Right now it’s light, flashy fuels,” said VCFD Captain Steve Kaufmann.  “Most of it is the regrowth that we’ve had from the Maria Fire (2019) a few years back. It’s still erratic conditions, the firefighters are seeing hot flames and the fire kinda goes anywhere it wants to.”


Late last night, evacuation orders were in place for people on the south side foothills of South Mountain; evacuation warnings were issued for the area near S. Mission Rock Road north of Highway 118, south of the Santa Clara River and east of S. Briggs Road; numerous other road closures were in effect. Evacuation orders are posted on the Ventura County Emergency website. A temporary evacuation center was established at Ventura College. Airtankers and helicopters were en route this morning, and by noon over 100 firefighters were on the fire.

 ~ Thanks and a tip of the hardhat to Norman.

Man fires several shots at Firehawk helicopter in Southern California

The person was found and arrested after an hours-long search

Joshua James Chimarusti
Joshua James Chimarusti. Photo by Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

On Thursday morning, July 22, 2021, Joshua Chimarusti was arrested after he fired several rounds from a handgun at a Ventura County Firehawk helicopter in Southern California.

On July 21, 2021 at approximately 9:15 PM, the crew of Ventura County Firehawk Copter 4 was conducting nighttime training operations in Lake Casitas when they became aware of gunfire directed at them. The pilot of Copter 4 took evasive action and identified a suspect vehicle leaving the area at a high rate of speed.  Copter 4 followed the suspect vehicle into Oak View where it came to a stop in the 200 block of Olive Street. The suspect, who was later identified as Joshua Chimarusti, exited the vehicle, and fired additional shots from a handgun at Copter 4. Mr. Chimarusti ran away to avoid being arrested.

An extensive search of the area was conducted by by patrol Deputies, various investigative units, K9, UAV, a small SWAT contingent, and Ventura County Copter 3. Mr. Chimarusti was ultimately located and taken into custody in the early morning hours of July 22, 2021. The handgun he used during both shootings was also located and seized as evidence. Ventura County Copter 4 did not sustain any damage from the incident.

Mr. Chimarusti was arrested and booked for attempted murder, assault with a firearm upon a peace officer or fire fighter, shooting at an occupied aircraft, discharge of a firearm with gross negligence, prohibited person in possession of a firearm, and carrying a loaded unregistered firearm. He had a court appearance scheduled for arraignment in Ventura County Superior Court on July 26.

Ventura County FireHawk
File photo of Ventura County FireHawk Copter 4 testing new tanks at 69Bravo, June 9, 2021 near Topanga, California . Photo from 69Bravo cameras.

Ventura County purchased three military HH-60L Blackhawk helicopters and is converting them into FIREHAWKS that will be used for fighting wildland fires, personnel transport, search and rescue, law enforcement, and medical evacuation.

The County has a joint Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit. In addition to the FIREHAWKS, they have one Bell 206 Jet Ranger, one Bell 212 HP, one Bell 205B, and two UH-1A Hueys.

More firefighting helicopters to be available in SoCal this summer

Two Chinooks and an S-61

N42CU Coulson CH-47 Chinook helicopter
Coulson’s CH-47 Chinook N42CU. Coulson photo, 2020.

This article first appeared at Fire Aviation.

Three counties in Southern California will be boosting their aerial firefighting capability this year with each adding one large contractor-owned helicopter.

Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange counties each have their own fleets of helicopters that can be used for firefighting and search and rescue. But in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, the 3,000-gallon Boeing CH-47D Chinooks they will add this year can carry three to eight times the loads of their FireHawks, UH-1H’s, and Bell 412EP’s.

Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange Counties helicopters
Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange Counties will be contracting for large helicopters this year.

Ventura County has arranged to add a Sikorsky S-61 with a 1,000-gallon tank. It will supplement their UH-1’s and the new-to-them Firehawk that just returned from Colorado after  being upgraded to Firehawk status with a new 1,000-gallon belly tank.

Orange County will also have a Sikorsky S-76 to provide intelligence, evaluate effectiveness of drops, and identify targets with a laser designator.

Coulson S-76 and S-61 helicopter
Coulson S-76 and S-61, L to R. Coulson photo.

The three counties will be calling this a “Quick Reaction Force Program.”

All four of these aircraft are being supplied by Coulson Aviation and will be staffed 24/7, capable of flying and dropping water on wildfires at night. They can also perform a maneuver that few helicopters have done in recent decades — refill their tanks while hovering over a water source at night. That is common, of course, during daylight, but rarely done in darkness using night-vision goggles.

The aircraft will be on contract starting June 15 ranging from 150 to 180 days.

Much of the funding for the helicopters is being supplied by Southern California Edison (SCE), expanding their program which supplied one or two helicopters based in Orange County in 2019 and 2020. In those years SCE paid the daily availability costs and when it was used on fires the hourly fees were covered by the jurisdiction in which the fire occurred.

In 2020 SCE and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) leased a CH-47D Chinook from Coulson. The night-flying helicopter was stationed at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Orange County on a 24/7 schedule.

In 2019 the OCFA also had an arrangement with SCE for a 24/7 night flying helicopter. In that case Coulson supplied an S-61 capable of 1,000 gallons and a Sikorsky S-76. The S-76 was not leased in 2020 because it was going through an avionics upgrade getting ready for fighting fire in the upcoming Australian summer, but it will be part of the Quick Reaction Force Program in 2021.

It is likely that these and other helicopters will occasionally make use of the 69Bravo Helistop that is being upgraded with four metal 8,000-gallon automatically refilling water tanks. Designed to efficiently refill helicopters’ buckets or tanks, it is located on one of the highest peaks in the Topanga area of the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles County.

The Chinook, Firehawk, and S-61 can get to and from water sources quickly cruising at 140 to 160 mph, while the S-76 with the pedal to the metal tops out at 178 mph.

Coulson Chinooks being unloaded at Houston
Coulson Chinooks being unloaded at Houston after completing their firefighting contracts in South America. Coulson photo, May, 2021.