Wildfire crews get creative for water sources during bad droughts

El Dorado County, California — Crews are fighting the explosive Caldor Fire during extraordinary drought conditions that have spurred water restrictions in several California cities. Water levels are so low at lakes and reservoirs crews depend on, they’re sometimes forced to get creative to access the water they need, reports CBS Sacramento.

“It may require us to go a little bit further in some areas if we know it’s remote and there’s not easily accessible water or there isn’t city water that’s available,” said Daniel Berlant, a spokesperson for CAL FIRE.

Fire trucks and helicopters have been filling up at Jenkinson Lake to battle the Caldor Fire. Water levels there are very low there and have dropped ten feet in just the last two months.

But CAL FIRE says there’s still enough to take on a wildfire.

Berlant said drought conditions usually don’t immediately affect a firefight because fire crews can pull from diverse sources.

“In an emergency situation, we access water. Whether it’s a rancher’s pond or whether it’s a reservoir, water is a critical necessity for us to fight fire,” he said.

Western Wildfires
Firefighters refill water while fighting the Caldor Fire east of Riverton, California on August 19, 2021. Ethan Swope / AP

Despite low levels at Jenkinson Lake, the El Dorado Irrigation District said there’s plenty to fight a fire and have enough for drinking water needs.

If water gets hard to find, crews will use large trucks called water tenders to pump and haul water into remote areas.

“And in times of need, engines and water tenders have been known to take water out of pools around homes. We’ll also use tanks of water that the public may have on their property,” said Robert Foxworthy, a CAL FIRE public information officer.

Owners of homes with pools in El Dorado County are actually being encouraged to spray paint in large letters the number of gallons in the so aircraft can spot the information.

The U.S. Forest Service is coordinating a specialized squadron of night helicopters flown in from Southern California that bring their own water and retardant to the fight. One of their Chinooks can drop up to 3,000 gallons in one flight.

Once a fire is extinguished, CAL FIRE makes every effort to return what firefighters took.

“After the fire is done, we’ll work to replace the water, whether we send water tenders to a fire hydrant miles away and truck it in,” Berlant said.


Two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker captures the horror and heroism of the deadliest week of wildfires in California history and explores the causes of what she calls a “global fire crisis” in the CBSN documentary “Bring Your Own Brigade.” Stream it now on the CBS News app and Paramount+

“Bring Your Own Brigade” 02:00:23