01:28 - Source: CNN
California's secret firefighting weapon

Story highlights

The Los Angeles County Fire Department uses three Firehawks to combat wildfires

Pilot Tom Short worries that California's drought will make for a difficult wildfire season

Firehawk, a version of the Army's Black Hawk, can load 1,000 gallons of water in 60 seconds

CNN —  

A whirling black and yellow mechanical beast swoops in to battle a deadly wildfire. For victims, it’s like the cavalry coming to the rescue.

They call it the Firehawk. 

Los Angeles County Fire Department senior pilot Tom Short talks about this helicopter like it’s a super chopper.

“Having been in all of the aircraft that are out there fighting fires, the Firehawk is the best firefighting machine I’ve ever seen – simply because of what it does,” Short told CNN on the phone this week. “It does everything: fire, rescue and air ambulance.”

Basically it’s a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter outfitted with a giant water tank. This thing is engineered to get hellishly close to the heat of a raging inferno. Its dual souped-up engines can lift 9,000 pounds – about the same weight as a large recreational travel trailer.

In preparation to dump water over flames, the Firehawk’s snorkel can suck 1,000 gallons of water into its storage tank in the span of one minute.

“We really work these machines very hard. During some fires, Short said, “I’ve made over 100 drops in one day.”

A firefighting super-chopper is especially valuable now, as California braces for what may be one of the worst wildfire seasons on record.

How worrisome is it? The state’s firefighting agency, Cal Fire, has responded to more than 2,500 wildfires in 2014 – a huge increase in the average number of fires at this point in the year, the agency says. In May, several fires in San Diego County forced thousands of residents from their homes and charred more than 31 square miles. The season usually doesn’t ramp up until summer or fall.