Air tanker pilot fought wildfires from the sky in 2000s. ‘She’s one of the best’

    Air tankers often put down the first red lines of defense at remote wildfires.

    The gritty work of establishing containment falls to ground firefighting crews, but an air attack can buy time for those firefighters to arrive on the scene.

    Laurie Phillips wrote this story, which ran in The Tribune on July 18, 2005:

    About 150 feet above the treetops is low enough for Anne Le Bris to pick out pine cones, roof tiles and people waving from the ground.

    But when she’s at that height, the aerial firefighter is focused on just one thing: pinpointing exactly the right moment to drop 1,200 gallons of soupy red retardant on a fire to slow its speed until ground crews arrive.

    It’s dangerous work that calls for flying low to the ground through thick smoke and turbulence created by the blaze. It carries a greater risk of crashing and dying. Yet it’s one of two things Le Bris has wanted to do for almost half her life.

    “If I was scared, I wouldn’t do it; I don’t like to get scared,” said the 37-year-old, who grew up in rural France.

    As often as six days a week, Le Bris climbs into a tanker plane based at the Paso Robles airport. This is her sixth season with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (also known as Cal Fire)and her first full season in Paso Robles; it’s also her first flying a tanker plane solo.

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