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Agreement With Utility Makes Helitanker Available To San Diego Fire Crews

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A San Diego Gas & Electric-owned helitanker with the capacity to drop up to 2,500 gallons of water will be available for use in firefighting efforts in San Diego County under renewed agreements between the utility and the city, county and fire agencies, SDG&E announced Friday.

The heavy-lift Erickson Air-Crane will remain on standby and can be en route to a fire in about 20 minutes, authorities said.

"We've seen a major increase in the number of wildfires throughout the state," Cal Fire and San Diego County Fire Authority Chief Thom Porter said.

"With the extreme dry conditions it is a matter of when, not if, we will need to call on the air-crane to help support our fire suppression efforts," he said.

Under the agreement with the city, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department will be the lead agency to dispatch the air-crane to a fire upon request, according to SDG&E officials.

A second agreement with the county established a $300,000 operating budget for fire season, with the utility to cover the first two hours and the county to cover the next two with funds from the Aerial Fire Protection Fund.

"The arrival of the helitanker means that our region is better equipped to respond wildfires," San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar said. "The carrying capacity of the aircraft, and the ability for the air-crane to leave the airfield with as much as 1,000 gallons of water, allows us to attack the fire early in its development."

Erickson Air-Crane will provide the mechanics and the pilots, who are trained to maneuver the aircraft for both precision water-dropping and utility construction. When not needed for firefighting, the aircraft could be used for electrical transmission work.