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SDG&E Gets New Helicopter Ahead Of Wildfire Season

SDG&E's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter sits in a hanger, August 7, 2019.
Kris Arciaga
SDG&E's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter sits in a hanger, August 7, 2019.

San Diego Gas & Electric announced Wednesday it's acquired a new helicopter ahead of California's wildfire season.

SDG&E's new Blackhawk helicopter can go deep into the site of a wildfire and still be connected to the internet in certain locations. It's the second helicopter the utility is making available for lease to the county for fire fighting.

SDG&E Gets New Helicopter Ahead of Wildfire Season
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

The company's investment comes as it and other investor-owned utilities throughout the state face increasing pressure to address their role in damaging wildfires over the last two decades.


SDG&E has been found culpable for sparks in its transmission lines leading to the 2007 wildfires, which burned 369,000 acres or about 13% of the county’s total land mass. It also led to hundreds of millions of dollars in costs.

Northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric, which has been blamed for the deadly 2018 wildfire in Paradise, has also announced this week that it's made upgrades to its Wildfire Safety Operations Center.

SDG&E is currently fighting a case in the Supreme Court to be reimbursed for costs in the 2007 wildfires, after state regulators and two California courts rejected the request.

In addition to the helicopters, SDG&E the utility is providing a mobile command truck that be a communication hub where cell signals are weak or non existent, said spokeswoman Zoraya Griffin.

"Once it is on scene it can be fully deployed within 20 minutes, Griffin said. "It gives communication abilities that would not normally exist or be very very unreliable."


RELATED: SDG&E Asks US Supreme Court To Weigh In On Wildfire Costs

CalFIRE officials say there have already been 161 brush fires in San Diego County since the first of the year.

Fire Captain Nick Schuler says that’s why it is important to keep building local firefighting assets. Schuler says the new helicopter from San Diego Gas and Electric will help, but air power isn't all that is needed.

"Aircraft themselves aren’t just the answer. We have to have firefighters on the ground. But the ability for aircraft to support firefighters on the ground enhances the safety of our firefighters. And it enhances the safety of people trying to evacuate," said Schuler.

This year, California became one of the few states in the country to pass legislation limiting felony murder convictions. But the law change has powerful opponents who are challenging it in court. Plus, a Honduran man granted U.S. asylum may still have to go back to Mexico, SDG&E has a new helicopter to help fight wildfires, and San Diego County launches a program to replace high-emission vehicles.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.