Helicopter pilot from Star returns after firefighting mission in California

STAR, ID - Southern California’s Thomas Fire is now the second largest wildfire in state history. The massive fire is now 55 percent contained, and fire officials don’t anticipate full containment until January 8. 

More than 8,000 firefighters from across the region are battling the devastating blaze, including a helicopter pilot from Star who returned Tuesday, Dec. 19. 

“There was never really a break,” said pilot Jason Brainerd. “It was kind of a 24-hour thing that was happening with the fire.”

Brainerd returned home Tuesday night, after 14 days on the job — flying a converted military Black Hawk equipped to carry about 800 gallons of water or fire retardant. 

“They were made to be out in a war zone, so they’re very fitting out fighting fire and out in the field all summer,” Brainerd said. 

In total, the Thomas Fire has scorched roughly 272,000 acres — an unbelievable sight from the air. 

Brainerd started aerial firefighting in 2003. He says the Thomas Fire is one of the biggest and most challenging ones he’s come across over the last 14 years. 

“It’s almost the energy of a volcano,” Brainerd explained. “There’s not much you can do at certain points in time, except make sure people are safely out of the way. It was a very dynamic fire.”

A company crew change allowed Brainerd to make a holiday homecoming, just in time for Christmas. 

“I definitely was willing to stay, but certainly holding hope that I would be able to come home,” Brainerd said. “So yeah, it did work out and I’m very grateful to be home.”

Firefighters from across the Treasure Valley sent to help contain the Thomas Fire are scheduled to demobilize on Thursday, Dec. 21. They are expected to arrive home sometime this weekend.

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