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New firefighting tool unveils in North County as Wildfire Awareness Month starts

Officials unveiled a new firefighting tool in North County. KPBS reporter Alexander Nguyen says it aims to cut fire response time in half.

Officials in North County unveiled a new firefighting tool Tuesday just in time for Wildfire Awareness Month in May.

It’s called a HeloPod — a 5,000-gallon tank that allows firefighting helicopters to load up water quickly.

“It's really important because up here in North County, in particular, we are really susceptible to climate extremes and wildfire risk," said Tiffany Boyd-Hodgson, president of the Vallecitos Water District. "We've had several fires in the area over the last 15 years where people have had to evacuate.”


The HeloPod is a joint venture between the district, CalFire and the San Marcos Fire Department. This is the first HeloPod installed in San Marcos. The next closest HeloPod to the area is in Fallbrook.

Boyd-Hodgson said the pod will make the whole region safer. Cal Fire paid for the $53,000 HeloPod, and the Vallecitos Water District and the San Marcos Fire Department paid for labor and installation costs.

A HeloPod on a hill overlooking state Route 78 on the Vallecitos Water District in San Marcos, April 30, 2024.
Alexander Nguyen
A HeloPod on a hill overlooking state Route 78 on the Vallecitos Water District in San Marcos, April 30, 2024.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie said this is a great collaboration for regional fire protection.

“What it does is it gives us the access to water, which is key when a wildland fire starts, and it reduces that turnaround time for those helicopters, which are so important in extinguishing these fires,” he said.

The HeloPod is located on hills north of Highway 78, near Palomar College. Because it's in a fenced-in area, helicopters can fly in and out quickly without endangering the public.


Cal Fire said it’ll cut the water reload time in half from 10 minutes to five.

San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones said the tool will help the San Marcos Fire Department keep its Class 1 Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, the highest public fire protection rating issued by the ISO.

“It's pretty prestigious, and this is one of the things that will definitely help us maintain that rating,” she said.

And that’s important for a growing city in a fire-prone area.

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