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Volunteer Pilots Photograph Wildfires to Help Feds

Santa Barbara Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol Helps Gather Burn Info for FEMA


The California Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a nonprofit composed of professional volunteer pilots and an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, has been flying photography missions over the Valley and Butte wildfires near Sacramento, providing emergency personnel with photos to determine how many structures have burned. Aerial photography technology developed by members of the CAP’s Santa Barbara Squadron has helped volunteers gather the photos.

Since last Monday, the California Wing — including Central Coast Unit volunteers from Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Camarillo, Simi Valley, San Luis Obispo, and Paso Robles — has spent 37-and-a-half hours flying 18 flights at nearly 1,500 feet over part of the vast area they’ve been asked to cover by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to a CAP press release. Photography missions, using aerial photography technology developed by members of Santa Barbara Squadron 131, continued throughout last week of the 76,000-acre Valley Fire area in Lake County and the 71,000-acre Butte Fire region in Calaveras and Amador County.

Both fires began in early September. The Butte Fire burned approximately 475 homes and nearly 500 other structures before it was contained on October 1. The largely controlled Valley Fire has burned upwards of 2,000 structures in its three-week-long reign, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).

California Wing Commander Colonel Alan Ferguson said in the press release that CAP volunteers provide the most cost-effective way to gather crucial, up-to-date information about wildfire damage and “have flown multiple flights each day collecting information to be used by the federal government to better understand the damage inflicted by the fires.”

The CAP was formed by volunteer aviation enthusiasts just one week before the attack on Pearl Harbor and remained active throughout WWII. Currently, over 60,000 thousand members and cadets serve the U.S. Air Force through emergency services, aerospace education, and cadet training programs for youth.



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