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Cal Fire holds large-scale exercise to prepare for nighttime wildfire fighting

Cal Fire crews undergoing training to battle nighttime blazes
Cal Fire crews undergoing training to battle nighttime blazes 02:17

Cal Fire recently conducted its largest-scale night exercise to date, equipping crews to continue firefights well into the night.l into the night. 

Soaring hundreds of feet above flames, firefighters are undergoing training to use tactical equipment like night vision goggles to battle blazes after dark. 

It's an operation that was carefully crafted by division chief Brian Renner, a self-described 'helicopter guy.' With more than a decade of experience, he paired his passion for flying with his skill of fighting fires to create the massive training exercise taking place just north of Sacramento. 

"I just feel that the job that I have and the role that we play as helicopter operations really makes a difference and help support the folks on the ground and help protecting lives," Renner said. 

Cal Fire acquired exclusive Chinook helicopters to keep the firefights going under moonlight. 

Although fire season has only just begun, the agency said they've already seen more than 40,000 acres burned this year. 

But with this training, more crews will now be equipped to provide aerial support overnight -- including at the Alma station in Los Gatos -- for large-scale fires in the Bay Area. 

"Typically, at night the winds start to subside. The temperatures go down, the humidity goes up. And when the ground firefighters are still actively engaged in the fire and they have water-dropping helicopters there to help support them and their structure defense and their perimeter control the incident," said Renner. 

The crews follow lights on hillsides seen through night vision equipment. The lights are set up to resemble a fire perimeter. 

Renner said, that when a real blaze sparks up, this training will help air teams learn how to fly together and provide necessary support for the ground crews. 

"It really allows everybody to get on the same page," he said. "We train for one standard that way when we get on an incident that the expectations are met with good communication."

It's a standard that can only come from someone with his level of knowledge by land and overhead.

"It's very rewarding, it's very challenging. And it's something I'm really passionate about," Renner said. "I like to see us make a difference out there and I know that we do."

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