A helicopter flew toward a Mount Pinos trailhead, flashing lights cutting through the night sky and the whir of its blades breaking the quiet.
On the ground, firefighters waited in the dark with a hose. In a matter of seconds, they would load the helicopter's belly with a few hundred gallons of water before it headed back toward flames in the mountains.
Helicopters landed and took off from the spot in the Los Padres National Forest one after another late Thursday night. But this time, the fire wasn't real and the flames were just glow sticks.
The drill targeted night missions – a practice some say could save homes, lives and money spent to fight fires.
Midafternoon, when it's hottest and the sun is bright, flames will more likely outpace fire resources, said Lyndsay Alarcon, a U.S. Forest Service helitack superintendent.