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San Diego Gets Extension On Firefighting Chopper

Due to the continuing wildfire threat, San Diego-area emergency crews will have access to a large water-dropping aircraft until mid-December, a fire department spokesman said today.

The Sikorsky S-64E helitanker has been available locally since early October and was scheduled to go out of service today per the terms of an agreement between San Diego Gas & Electric and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

"The threat from wildfires is decreasing as winter season approaches," SDFRD information officer Maurice Luque said. "However, fire officials (understand) that although it has rained lately, the vegetation is still dry and volatile. Realizing that the potential still exists for wildfires, SDG&E offered to extend the contract for the helitanker for two additional weeks."

Under the arrangement, the utility company covers all costs of leasing and staffing the aircraft, nicknamed "The Incredible Hulk," and pays for its first two hours of service at a fire. The city fire department is responsible for dispatching the copter to the scene of blazes.

To date, the helitanker has been deployed to help fight eight wildfires in San Diego County, Luque said.

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