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The view: Eastbound IFR departure out of KSBA during the December fires in the Santa Barbara/ Ventura County foothills

The pilot: Ronald Hays

The airplane: Beech Baron

The mission: On our way to Palm Springs to breathe some clean air after four days of choke-level smoke requiring breathing masks outdoors.

The memory: This was known as the Thomas fire, the largest fire in SOCAL history. The ceiling at departure was 1800 ft. of very hot (90+ degrees) thick smoke. We didn’t break out until 4000 ft. when we flew out of the southeast side of the smoke cloud. The tops of the cloud were in excess of 12,000 ft. Fortunately, the fire was held north of the ridge lines above Santa Barbara, about 2 miles from our home, by hundreds of heroic firefighters, dozens of air support water and retardant aircraft backed up by hundreds of local, volunteers supporting those efforts. In all of our travels from Alaska to Guatemala over 3000 hours in 18 years of private flying, it is ironic that the scariest departure ever was from our home airport.

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Ronald Hays
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