San Diego County Unveils New Firefighting Helicopter As Hot, Dry Temperatures Set In
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Just in time for the peak wildfire season, San Diego County leaders and fire officials unveiled a new firefighting helicopter on Thursday at Gillespie Field in El Cajon.
Just in time for the peak wildfire season, San Diego county leaders and fire officials unveiled a new firefighting helicopter on Thursday at Gillespie Field in El Cajon.
“I guess it’s fitting that we stand out here in temperatures in the mid-90s and our first Santa Ana wind event this weekend," said Tony Mecham, San Diego County Fire Chief.
The $4.4 million helicopter, the third in the county’s fleet, carries a 375 gallon water tank. It can hoist equipment and transport nine firefighters. The craft will be flown by the San Diego County Sheriff’s aviation unit.
Having three helicopters means there are always two ready to fly while the third undergoes maintenance, Mecham said.
“Of the two helicopters, one is set up daily for rescue work, it’s capable of dropping water. But it is set up with a hoist, so if people get in trouble in the backcountry we can rescue people from places of peril,” Mecham said.
The second is for a helitack firefighting crew to be transported and dropped off quickly to fires in remote areas.
Cal Fire Captain Brad Loven is part of the helitack team.
“If we get a wildland fire or vegetation fire in the backcountry we’ll be deployed on the ground and we’ll be in charge of six to eight firefighters,” Loven said. “We’ll work in conjunction with the helicopter to make drops and try to keep it as small as we can.”
Also on hand were Cal Fire’s new 3,000 gallon water tender fire engine and a portable tank that can hold enough water to fill a helicopter up to five times.
"We can set up a water source anywhere in the county,” Mecham said. “With the drought, a lot of the stock ponds that pilots usually dip water out of have dried up. So that yellow tank over there, the helicopter can dip or refill their water tank from that.”
Mecham said he’s relieved to have the additional helicopter as high heat and offshore winds are blowing in. He said last weekend's rains won’t dampen the fire risk.
“Probably one day of warm weather, today, and it’s going to dry right back out, and we have the potential for wind-driven fires," Mecham said. "The rain is not going to help what has already died."
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