As the Cave Fire grew into a continuous line of flame alongside State Route 154, from afar, headlights could be seen bobbing on the pitch-black hillsides. It was a dozer cutting through brush on rugged terrain, establishing a fire line to keep the scorching heat from leaping farther. And in front of the ’dozer was his swamper, scouting ahead, working with the driver to keep the bulldozer on level ground as it pushed across the rough hills. But neither of them could work so close to the fire if not for the helicopters overhead, dropping water to cool the flames when they came too close.

One of Santa Barbara County’s Hueys was the first on the scene, soon joined by others from Ventura County, Angeles National Forest, and the big boy: Los Angeles County’s Firehawk. A reconfigured Sikorsky Blackhawk, the Firehawk is faster, tougher, and newer than the workhorse but elderly Hueys. L.A. County has seven of them.

Santa Barbara bought its first ‘Hawk earlier this year for $1.7 million, part of a statewide move to replace Vietnam-era helicopters with a newer breed. It’s a used National Guard Blackhawk that’s in Alabama right now, being gutted and rebuilt, said Mike Eliason, a County Fire spokesperson. The 2004 aircraft is having its armor removed and a “bambi” bucket that holds about 600 gallons installed for the short term. In that configuration, it’s expected to come online early next year.

Read more on this story at the Santa Barbara Independent