The National Guard has 22 aircrafts working to fight the wildfires burning in the North Bay, including two drones.
Crews have been battling thick smoke and high winds. Tuesday was the first time it was safe enough for the National Guard to take an NBC Bay Area camera aboard an aircraft so we could show how Santa Rosa looks from above after wildfires ripped through the region.
Aerial Views from National Guard Helicopter Show North Bay Wildfire’s Aftermath
The Sonoma County city from the air features a scar of scorched Earth that will take years to heal.
Officials say 2,100 National Guard troops have been deployed to fight the North Bay wildfires. Even those with years of experience say seeing the devastation is haunting.
NBC Bay Area joined a crew of four from the 129th Rescue Wing based at Mountain View's Moffett Field. Senior Airman Austin Hellweg on his first wildfire mission is unlikely to forget the disaster that now ranks as the most destructive fire in California history. The North Bay fires have burned an area the size of New York City and has taken down more than 3,500 homes and businesses. At least 40 people have died in the fires, officials said.
"The toughest part for me seeing this is knowing how many people have been displaced, lost their homes...pretty much everything," Hellweg said.
Pilot Caroline White is flying reconnaissance missions to help crews in the air and on the ground. In 10 years of active duty, she has never experienced one like the North Bay fires.
"We just got off (Hurricanes) Harvey and Irma and that was heartbreaking," White said. "But to see this in our own backyard -- some of our own squadron members have had their childhood homes burn down."
Veteran first responders also said the sights of the wildfires and aftermath in their home state will be seared into their memories.
Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security and the State Office of Emergency Services also surveyed the damage on Tuesday to help plan for future rebuilding that will need to happen across the North Bay.