Montana firefighters, Missoula air tankers on duty at SoCal wildfires

Neptune Aviation’s Tanker 10 was one of the slurry bombers dispatched to Southern California this week. (Neptune Aviation Facebook)

Fifty-four Montana wildland firefighters and 16 wildland engines are in Southern California to help fight massive wildfires burning in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego.

The state of Montana received a request this week from the California Office of Emergency Services to provide critically needed resources to support the firefighting effort in Southern California. Gov. Steve Bullock charged the Montana Disaster and Emergency Division with the task of recruiting local firefighting teams.

“We are working with our partners in California to ensure that Montana can provide any and all needed resources we can,” stated Delila Bruno, state DES administrator.  “In Montana, we often have to request resources from California to assist us during our fire season. This is Montana being a good neighbor”

In addition, Missoula’s Neptune Aviation has dispatched Tankers 10 and 12 back to California, where they provided aerial firefighting power earlier this year as well.

Dan Snyder, Neptune’s chief operating officer, said CALFire made the request soon after the Southern California wildfires ignited. Neptune sent two BAE 146 air tankers with a crew of four on each plane.

“What we are currently doing is protecting the small fires that start small,” Snyder told ABCFox Montana. “A lot of these fires in California all began at a single point. If you can catch them at that point you can mitigate the damage and that’s what we are doing right now is helping to assist catch those small fires.”

The return to active duty means Neptune’s tankers were fighting wildfires all 12 months of 2017, Snyder said.

In addition, California requested 50 strike teams of Type I, III, V and VI wildland engines from Montana and six other states to fight the fires, which started on Dec. 4.  State officials worked closely with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the Northern Rockies Coordination Center to begin filling the requests.

Montana DES staff worked through the evening to complete the logistics to get the personnel and equipment en route to California. By Wednesday evening, firefighters and wildland equipment from 14 separate city, county, rural and volunteer fire departments statewide agreed to assist.

The firefighters and equipment were formed into one strike team and two task forces.  The crews and equipment left Montana on Wednesday evening and Thursday, headed to California. All crews have arrived and are now at work on the fire line.