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Cal Fire San Diego adds Sky Crane to aerial fleet for 2022 fire season

It’s August and with the little rain, hot temperatures and gusty winds, the grasses and brush all around us are dry. Cal Fire San Diego County Captain Thomas Shoots said fuel moistures are now at the critical levels in most areas of the county.

"This time of year is when our fuel moistures are starting to bottom out. That’s going to make the fire behavior more explosive, so going into the next couple of months we're going to continue to see conditions deteriorating and get more challenging for us," said Shoots.

He said lately the weather has been humid, raising moisture levels. They're monitoring the potential for thunderstorms closely, but so far the effects seem positive. "With these storms there seems less of a chance for dry lightning," Shoots said. "More likely that [lightning] will come with some moisture. That’s always good for us if the lightning does strike and start a fire, the moisture helps keep that fire at bay." 

Captain Neil Czapinski said in addition to being at the ready with their fleet of dozens of fire apparatus, they now have an exclusive use of a Sikorsky helicopter or "Sky Crane."

Czapinski told KPBS, "It’s a helicopter, so it’s very agile. It has the capability to hover over a body of water and suck up the water. The tank capacity for this particular aircraft is 2,650 gallons, so that’s what makes it a Type 1 capability."  

Type 1 helicopters are the fastest, largest capacity, and most expensive in the fleet. The Sky Crane is being leased by the state, but will be managed by Cal Fire San Diego and operate out of the Ramona Airport. It will be available to fight fires throughout the region.

Czapinski said they're anticipating an aggressive fire season. "An aircraft like this, with its capabilities, is definitely a welcome change. It's nice to be able to have the resources at our disposal here in San Diego, to be able to call and be able to request and get those resources there to help us put the fire out as soon as possible."

He said adding more resources means better protection, saying, "We’re just trying to bolster our firefighting capabilities to help San Diego and its residents."  

Shoots said we can all do something to be fire safe and ready, and said it’s never too late to clear dry brush and remove anything that is up against your home that poses an extra fire danger. But he said there is one exception: "The caveat with that is, absolutely any kind of mechanized clearing outside, anything that can start a fire this time of year, has a lot greater potential to do so. We saw two fires in a two-week period in Ramona, both started by somebody who was out there clearing trying to clear their property and do the right thing. They let it go, they kept clearing into the hotter part of the day and that fire ended up taking off on them."

He said it's also never too late to make a plan, and be ready in case you do have to evacuate in case of a fire.

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