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THROUGH THE LENS: Firefighting the San Gabriel Complex Fire

THROUGH THE LENS: Firefighting the San Gabriel Complex Fire

Report and Photos by Todd Miller

July 30, 2016

What was expected to be a particularly hot June 20th in Los Angeles quickly escalated into a crisis as wildfires broke out on the hills to the North of the city.  Fanned by winds the “Azusa” (Reservoir Fire) and “Duarte” (Fish Fire) fires quickly spread east, uphill and towards each other threatening to merge.  Given their proximity, both fires would ultimately be managed as one, the San Gabriel Complex fire.  Firefighting crews quickly positioned themselves on the ground between neighborhoods and the hillsides where the fires raged.  With early afternoon temperatures of 101F those on the ground clothed in hot, heavy protective gear knew they were in for an exhausting day.  Ground resources were positioned for the ground fight that was likely in the evening when winds often shift west towards densely populated areas.

While possible the ground crews conserved energy in the shade – waiting for their turn to be called into action.  A homeowner, his house bordering the brush looked on nervously.  In spite of the real possibility of property loss, it was impressive to witness the overwhelming resources fighting the fire. These conditions are not unusual for California, and the State and surrounding Cities and jurisdictions are well prepared.  Within a short time, aviation resources of all types were mobilized to protect homes, property and infrastructure.  Helicopters and aircraft mobilized like a military operation and “bombed” the fires in waves, from every possible angle and altitude.

Not intended to be a complete list of assets involved, I was able to visually ascertain the following in my immediate vicinity.

  • McDonnell Douglas DC-10
  • Lockheed C-130
  • BAE 146
  • Grumman S-2
  • Bird dog aircraft
  • 3 x Sikorsky CH-54 SkyCranes
  • 2 x Sikorsky S-70A Firehawks
  • Bell 412EP
  • 2 x Bell 205s

The aerial coordination of so many aircraft flying constant “sorties” speaks to the organization that handles everything from logistics, maintenance, piloting, command and air traffic control. Recognition is well due to those professionals that fly, and support on every level.

The San Gabriel Complex fire burned for about 11 days until it was considered “100%” contained.

Azusa Fire Flares up, June 20, 2016

Azusa Fire Flares up, June 20, 2016

Fire Fighters in heavy gear face temperatures of 101F as they climb to take on the Azusa fire north of Los Angeles June 20, 2016.

Fire Fighters in heavy gear face temperatures of 101F as they climb to take on the Azusa fire north of Los Angeles June 20, 2016.

BAE-146 Follows bird dog and makes Fire Retardant drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

BAE-146 Follows bird dog and makes Fire Retardant drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

Bell 412EP of Los Angeles Fire Department makes water drop just inside power lines on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

Bell 412EP of Los Angeles Fire Department makes water drop just inside power lines on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

CH-54B opening the floodgates on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

CH-54B opening the floodgates on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

CH-54B on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

CH-54B on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

Sikorsky S-70A Firehawk making water drop on the Azusa Fire in close proximity to power transmission lines. On the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

Sikorsky S-70A Firehawk making water drop on the Azusa Fire in close proximity to power transmission lines. On the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

Sikorsky CH-54B makes water drop on the Asuza Fire in CA, June 20, 2016.

Sikorsky CH-54B makes water drop on the Asuza Fire in CA, June 20, 2016.

Sikorsky CH-54B makes water drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

Sikorsky CH-54B makes water drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

Sikorsky S-70A Firehawk making water drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

Sikorsky S-70A Firehawk making water drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

CH-54B (1969) Incoming for water drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

CH-54B (1969) Incoming for water drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

CH-54B obscured by smoke after making water drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

CH-54B obscured by smoke after making water drop on the Azusa Fire on the hills North of Los Angeles June 20, 2016

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Todd Miller

Todd Miller resides in rural Maryland west of Baltimore. Given less than required eyesight Todd’s dreams of fighter pilot were grounded, but the love of military aviation has never subsided. Todd enjoys capturing military aircraft through photography, with a particular desire to capture them in mission action. When not busy chasing jets, Todd works in the area of Business Development for a prominent flooring materials company.


Todd can be reached at: [email protected]


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