In support of its ground forces, the CAL FIRE emergency response air program includes 23 Grumman S-2T 1,200 gallon airtankers (one is kept as maintenance relief), 11 UH-1H Super Huey helicopters (two are kept as maintenance relief, and 14 OV-10A airtactical aircraft (one is kept as maintenance relief). From 13 air attack and nine helitack bases located statewide, aircraft can reach most fires within 20 minutes.
The airtactical planes fly overhead directing the airtankers and helicopters to critical areas of the fire for retardant and water drops. The retardant used to slow or retard the spread of a fire is a slurry mix consisting of a chemical salt compound, water, clay or a gum-thickening agent, and a coloring agent.
While both airtankers and helicopters are equipped to carry fire retardant or water, the helicopters can also transport firefighters, equipment and injured personnel. All CAL FIRE Aircraft are strategically located throughout the state at airbases and helicopter bases. During high fire activity, CAL FIRE may move aircraft to better provide statewide air support.
The average annual budget of the CAL FIRE Aviation Management Program is nearly $20 million. A total of 18 CAL FIRE personnel oversee the program with an additional 130 contract employees providing mechanical, pilot and management services to the program.
CAL FIRE's current support contractors are DynCorp and Logistics Specialties Incorporated (LSI). DynCorp provides airtanker and airtactical plane pilot services, and all aircraft maintenance services. (All CAL FIRE helicopters are flown by CAL FIRE pilots.) LSI provides procurement and parts management services.