The flames erupted just after sunrise on a high canyon wall, far beyond the reach of earthbound firefighters.
As powerful winds sent embers rocketing through the Sierra Nevada foothills, and closer to the towns of Magalia, Concow and Paradise, fire crews radioed anxiously for aircraft.
“Any news on air attack?” demanded one commander. “Let’s get stuff up that we can get up.” But it would take nearly two hours for the first water-dropping helicopter to arrive, and roughly six hours for the first air tankers to drop retardant on the fire, because of dangerously strong winds.
Now, in the aftermath of the Camp fire, which killed 85 people and caused up to $13 billion in damage, some are calling Cal Fire’s use of air tankers “costly and increasingly ineffective.”
They insist that fixed-wing air tankers are too vulnerable to the blinding smoke and high winds of extreme fire conditions.