Playing 'The Fire Game' in California

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.

She returned to France and studied aeronautics, then opted 13 years ago to go with a friend to a flight school in Arizona that they had read about in a French aviation magazine. She taught novice pilots at a flight school in San Diego for four years, then flew passengers over the Grand Canyon and cargo in Seattle.

Six years ago, DynCorp, the company that supplies CDF with its pilots, offered Le Bris a job. Before she arrived in Paso Robles, she worked at bases in Hollister, Grass Valley, Columbia and Santa Rosa.

Bob Valette, one of Le Bris' instructors at the Santa Rosa base, said she's a great pilot because of her sound decision-making. "She understands the fire game really well," he said.

"In this business, you get respect by how good a pilot you are and how well you get along with other people, because of the amount of time we spend together," said Chuck Lees, the other tanker pilot based in Paso Robles. For those reasons, "she's probably one of the best."

Le Bris hopes for a career with CDF. And the months off will, she hopes, soon allow her to do the other thing she's long wanted to do: fly humanitarian missions in Africa. She's already been offered a yearlong contract to carry evacuees, food and doctors, she said, but didn't take it so she could continue working as a tanker pilot.

She's embarrassed by the attention paid her, insisting her colleagues are more experienced and other jobs -- like digging for diamonds in Africa -- are more dangerous.

"I'm just a pilot," she said.

Distributed by the Associated Press