(Meredith) -- During the summer, a 19-year-old pilot joined hundreds of firefighters battling the wildfires out west.

She found out she was one of the few female pilots helping.

Over 2.3 million acres in California are gone this year alone. The battle against the raging wildfires is being waged on both the ground and in the air, and it includes 19-year-old pilot Ashli Blain.

Blain said she has been around airplanes and helicopters since she was born.

"My mom always likes to tell me that she put me in a helicopter two weeks after I was born to go to a party, and apparently everyone thought she was nuts," she said.

Blaine said she has been piloting since she was 13 years old. She said she worked with her father combatting the SCU Lightning Fire that broke out in August of this year, which has burned nearly 137,000 acres in 22 days.

It was massive, one of the biggest fires I've ever been to," Blaine said.

Blaine and her dad were still relieving other flight crews right up until the day before she started college at Rocky Mountain College in Montana.

"I was there up until the day before orientation, which was the 30th,” Blaine said. “I got home at two in the morning and orientation was at nine in the morning so it was a very busy evening"

For Blaine, what originally started as a family affair quickly turned into a passion. Her first fire season was in 2019. In what is a male-dominated field, she is a copilot in the Chinook Helicopter and a command pilot in the Blackhawk.

"You have briefings every morning at the fires where they talk about what you're going to be doing for the day. And I always think it's funny because you look around and there's only maybe two other girls there," Blaine said.

Since Blaine is now in college pursuing a degree in accounting, she doesn’t have as much time for fighting fires.

"Unfortunately I can't get out on fires, which is a bit of a bummer for me especially with how the season's picked up," she said. "[Accounting]'s kind of boring compared to flying but it's useful."

Her skills as a pilot have been especially useful this summer, however, as she used them to fight the second-biggest wildfire in California’s history.

As of Tuesday, the SCU Lightning Complex, the wildfire that Blaine helped battle, is 97 percent contained. California firefighting authorities expect to have it under control by the weekend.

Copyright 2020 Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved.

Recommended for you