California Helicopter Flips The Script, Drops Fire On Forest

Controlled burns can help prevent more destructive forest fires

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Graphic: CAL FIRE

California Fire spent time doing serious work with its extremely fun-looking helitorch this week and I gotta say, I both want one for the Jalopnik staff and am very aware that none of us should ever be allowed to have one.


So what the heck is a helitorch? It’s that totally rock n’ roll jet of flame pouring out beneath the helicopter. A helitorch is described by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group as “an aerial ignition device hung from or mounted on a helicopter to disperse ignited lumps of gelled gasoline. Used for backfires, burnouts, or prescribed burns.”

CalFire’s Vegetation Management Program is performing the prescribed burn this week at Williams Ranch, five miles northeast of tiny town of Platina, California. It plans to torch 600 acres over three days, and smoke will be visible as far away as Redding, California, 60 miles away. The VMP is available to perform controlled burns on both private and public land. Such burns mimic natural wildfires, which serve an important purpose in California’s ecosystem improving soil and giving different plants and animals a chance to move in to the burned area.


Controlled burns also help cut down on the rate of catastrophic wildfires. Such wildfires are only on the increase as we deal with global climate change. Last year, fires burned 7.7 million acres of land in the U.S. California alone saw three fatalities and 2.5 million acres scorched by wildfires in 2020. While that’s less than the devastation wrought by fires in 2020, 2021 saw another worrying trend: It was harder to fight fires and fires that spark year round, rather than just during the summer months, according to the Guardian. CalFire doesn’t use helicopters to put out the fires (they’re just for starting them) but it does use Large Airtankers (LATs) and Very Large Airtankers (VLATs) which dump water of flame retardant on large areas of forest.

I just can’t get over the helitorch. It’s a very cool and totally serious piece of technology, one that, where it to fall into the hands of Jalopnik, we would only abuse. Suddenly we would go from simply the best automotive news website to the only automotive website. That being said, if anyone happens across one at a California junk yard you can hit us up at tips at jalopnik dot com.