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‘A game changer’: Firefighting helicopters make historic night time drops

As the Gulch Fire continues to burn in the hills above Azusa, fire officials are celebrating a moral victory and an important milestone in the state’s ongoing battle with wildfires.

Overnight Monday, Orange County Fire Authority helicopters made night time retardant drops on the brush fire. The overnight operation was the first time in Southern California history that firefighting helicopters were able to make drops after sunset, according to OCFA.

The helicopters are part of the Quick Reaction Force, a joint unit between Southern California firefighting agencies that features the world’s largest fire-suppression helicopters.

The CH-47 Chinook can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant per drop.

“This is what we call a game changer,” OCFA said in a tweet Tuesday. “The ability to drop retardant at night provides us with another tool to defend homes and slow the spread of fire.”

Normally limited to daytime hours due to visibility and weather conditions, the ability for firefighting helicopters to work overnight could provide a critical advantage as fire departments across the state and much of the nation grapple with the reality of a seemingly never-ending wildfire season.

More than 200 firefighters are currently assigned to the Gulch Fire, which is burning in San Gabriel Canyon near the Morris Dam. Overnight, the helicopters were able to dump more than 31,000 gallons of water and more than 21,000 gallons of retardant over multiple drops.

The Gulch Fire has burned about 110 acres and is 35% contained. There are currently no threats to any structures, but the fire is expected to be driven by gusty winds and impacted by a heat wave that is expected to sweep much of Southern California later in the week.

For the latest conditions on the Gulch Fire, click here.

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