Cal Fire faces pilot shortage amidst peak season

Posted at 6:54 PM, Sep 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-04 21:54:59-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Wildfire season is taking a toll on firefighting pilots.

Cal Fire says it has had to ground of some of the state’s planes during emergencies because there are not enough people available to fly them.

Their flying schedules showed the agency grounded four of their twenty three S-2 planes due to a pilot shortfall as major fires burned in August.

The S-2 is Cal Fire’s first smaller attack plane that is generally dispatched within minutes of fire starting.

“It is such a specialized field” said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean on the dearth of pilots, “there’s just not that many out there.”

McLean says there is a general shortage of pilots in aviation, but the hours they are asking their pilots to work make it a tough sell compared to the private sector.

“Keep in mind these pilots are working 6-days on and one day off,” said McLean, “that was good — until last year when there has been no fire season and it’s just been year round.”

Cal Fire says they lost 8 pilots to varying circumstances ranging from new jobs to retirement and they have several trainees they hope to have ready by the fall.

“The air is not the only front of the fire,” said McLean, “we have other planes in the place of the S-2’s until we can get those pilots trained that we need to.”

 Cal Fire says they are still able to put out almost 95% of fires before they burn 10 acres.