John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
It contains the blaze by destroying tinder in areas firefighters have trouble reaching.
Given the bone-dry state of California, and the steep, hard-to-access terrain around the Rocky Fire, there’s a risk the conflagration (at only 20 percent contained) could see explosive development. Fortunately, emergency crews have an arsenal of tools to contain the inferno—one of them being specially equipped helicopters that sprays flames onto tinder below. The idea is to destroy dry vegetation in areas firefighters have trouble reaching, thus hindering the wildfire’s expansion.
CAL FIRE recently mobilized a “Heli-Torch” in an effort to prevent the fire from carbonizing a road, according to CBS SF. The aircraft looks like a standard helicopter dangling a big kettle that spits burning fuel—CBS says propane, CAL FIRE mentions gelled gasoline—like a napalm-throwing war machine.
Footage of the recent operation appears unavailable, but this video of a prescribed burn a few years back gives a great view of the “Heli-Torch” doing its thing. Skip to 0:35 for the action, and be sure to crank the volume if you like your all-devouring fire rain with rock music.