Dale joins in to fight California wildfires

Marlinton native MAJ. Evan Dale, third from left, was one of four West Virginia National Guardsmen to volunteer to assist with fighting the California wildfires this fall. Pictured with Dale is the rest of his crew, from left: CWO3 James Kearnes, SSG Edward Dillon, Dale and SPC John DeAngelo. Photo courtesy of Evan Dale

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

In the past 16 years, Marlinton native Evan Dale has experienced many high-stress events as a member of the West Virginia National Guard. Stationed in Charleston, Dale is always prepared to respond to local and national emergencies.

Early this fall, he volunteered to join a crew responding to the wildfires in California.

As a helicopter pilot, Dale was a vital member of the crew, which assisted the California National Guard, flying water into the fire zones throughout the state.

“The adjutant general from California sent out an email asking for support and our state had asked if we had any volunteers,” Dale said. “Myself and a couple other soldiers were like, ‘hey, send us out there, we’ll go out and help.’”

Through use of the EMAC – Emergency Management Assistant Compact – system, California was able to call on National Guards in other states to assist.

On September 14, Dale and his crew – CWO3 James Kearns, SSG Edward Dillon and SPC John DeAngelo – flew commercial to California and joined in the fight.

After being briefed each morning, the crew prepared the California National Guard’s Black Hawk they were using and headed out to where they were needed.

“We would fly from Sacramento to whatever helebase we were working,” Dale said. “We were up in Chico which was the North Complex Fire, and then we were in Ukiah, California, which was the August Complex Fire, and then we were down in the Glass Fire, which was right around Napa Valley.

“Once we got there, we would calculate all the parameters for the environmental temperatures for the day, and we knew exactly how our aircraft would be performing in flight, so we would know how much water we could pick up at a pond or at a reservoir or even a creek, and take up to a fire.”

The crew was in constant contact with Cal Fire, which would send them to certain sectors that needed water.

“They would give us the sector that we could be expected to be called out to,” Dale said. “Then we would get the aircraft, we could get the water buckets prepared and standby for a call. We’d carry about 660 gallons. Each day it depended on what the firefighters on the ground were trying to accomplish. We would fly anywhere from up to five- and-a-half to six hours a day.”

The crew intended to stay in California until October 16, but, fortunately, the fires were under control sooner, and Dale and his crew returned to Charleston October 7.

Dale said soldiers from Arizona, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Nebraska were there at the same time as the West Virginia crew.

Although it was his first time assisting with California’s fire season, Dale said the West Virginia National Guard has been preparing for fires of this nature.

“We’d actually been preparing for this since last year, because there were some fires going on in the southern part of the state, and Governor [Jim] Justice asked us to get ready in the event that we were ever needed for that,” Dale said. “Obviously, we don’t have those kinds of really destructive fires, but we went out and got prepared.”

Dale added that if West Virginia was ever asked to help again, he would be on the first flight out to offer his assistance.

One of the reasons Dale chose to join the National Guard is because it does more work locally and across the United States.

“I like the ability to still be local in the communities,” he said. “I never really wanted to leave West Virginia, so that’s always been nice. When I say serving in the community – the guard also works for the governor, so anytime we have local or national emergencies, we’re able to respond to help the people.”

Dale never planned to be a pilot, but seven years into his career, he was asked to try it.

“I started looking into it and gave it a shot,” he said. “I was selected back in 2013 to go to flight school. I primarily fly Black Hawks. I’m qualified for a few other aircrafts – a few other helicopters – but my primary aircraft is Black Hawk.”

Dale resides in Charleston with his wife, Jill, and their children, Madelyn, 4, and Wyatt, 2.

He is a 2004 graduate of Pocahontas County High School.

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