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Firefighting Helicopter Returns To San Diego

San Diego Gets Huge Helicopter To Fight Fires
Firefighting Helicopter Returns To San Diego
San Diego County officials are cheering the return of a huge helicopter crane that will help with aerial firefighting over the next three months. This is the seventh year the large chopper would be deployed as part of the county's firefighting fleet.

The Erickson Air Crane is appropriately namedGoliath. The flying structure towered over people as it sat in its temporary home at El Cajon's Gillespie Field on Monday.

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Firefighting Helicopter Returns To San Diego
Firefighting Helicopter Returns To San Diego GUEST: Erik Anderson, reporter, KPBS News

Local officials hope that size helps the craft and its crew stamp out wildfires before they get too large. The helicopter can carry five times as much water as a normal chopper — just over 2,600 gallons.

"The air crane is surprisingly agile," San Diego Fire-Rescue Capt. Guy Keilman said. "It's very maneuverable, and it works very well in a fire environment. And we're able to maneuver quickly and accurately for the firefighters on the ground."

The aircraft packs a punch. Hovering over a lake or ocean, it can fill two giant tubes in just two minutes. That payload can be dropped all at once, or the craft can deliver liquid at the same slower rate that other choppers do.

Fighting wildfires from the air is a key part of the local strategy to hit small fires with overwhelming force.

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This is the seventh year the large chopper is part of the county's firefighting fleet. SDG&E is paying $1.75 million to keep the craft here for three months.

The utility and county are sharing initial flight costs.

"I look at this and I kind of have mixed feelings. I look at this and it's kind of like my auto insurance. I'm happy I have it, but I hope I don't have to use it," San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts said. "And I think we all have that feeling, but there's a comfort in knowing you've got it."

Local fire officials say climate change, drought and a lot of dead trees in the backcountry are a recipe for a volatile fire season this year. That means the Goliath could get a lot of work.