There are days here when you walk outside and just know. Step on a stick and it snaps. Grass crunches underfoot. It’s hot, and the relative humidity is down in the single digits. If there’s a fire that day, Cal Fire battalion chief Justin McGough says, “You just know it’s going to burn very, very well.”

But today is not that day, as I step one winter morning onto Cal Fire’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in Hemet, California. To the east, Mount San Jacinto is topped with fresh snow, and ample rainfall has relieved most of the state’s drought. Here at Hemet-Ryan, which remains open year-round, firefighting aircraft out on the ramp mark time quietly in the sun.
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