CHP Chopper Crew Talks About Harrowing Initial Atlas Fire Rescues

NAPA COUNTY (CBS13 & KPIX 5) – A pair of California Highway Patrol officers talked about some of dramatic rescues they made in Napa County from the air just after the wildfires broke out, including one where a father insisted the officers take his family to safety first.

CBS13 reports how CHP helicopter video taken Sunday night showed the Atlas Fire’s quick rate of growth early on, with the blaze encircling the Napa community and trapping some people within its fire lines.

ALSO READ: Complete Coverage of Wine County Wildfires

The explosive spread of the fire with winds gusting up to 70 miles an hour made for dangerous conditions as the CHP helicopter crew looked for residents to help.

“It felt like a hurricane to me, you know?” said CHP pilot Pete Gavitte. “[I’ve] flown for 30 year and have never been tossed around like that.”

“Under the night vision goggles, it looked like a huge bomb had gone off,” remembered CHP paramedic Whitney Lowe.

ALSO READ: CHP Aircraft Rescues 44 People, Pets In North Bay Fires

Gavitte and Lowe evacuated dozens of people with air rescues, landing inside the fire lines with their CHP chopper.

The first rescue of a man with his family including his parents, wife and young boy is one neither will forget.

“He ran up with his son and you know… he stayed behind – um, you know, he said…he stayed behind,” Gavitte said with some difficulty before pausing, overcome with emotion.

In the midst of a disaster, it was a powerful moment of selflessness.

“That’s when it became real,” said Lowe.

“He said to take his family. We did. We told him we’d come back for him,” said Gavitte. “He got out as well.”

“These are people who think they’re never going to see their family again. And at that point to see the father put the family first was touching,” said Lowe. “I have five kids and that’s the same decision I would have made but I hope I never have to make that decision.”

The Atlas Fire has grown to 42,000 acres as of Wednesday, extending from Napa County into Solano County. The fire is currently only three percent contained.

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