County gets new tools for high-risk fire season - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

County gets new tools for high-risk fire season

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - County officials are getting ready for the fall fire season, with help from some new equipment to help battle flames from above.

For a fifth straight year, San Diego Gas & Electric has contracted for the use of a firefighting helitanker with the capacity to drop up to 2,500 gallons of water at a time.

The Erikson Air-Crane and a second helicopter will be on standby for use by fire agencies through autumn, a period generally marked by high wildfire risk, SDG&E said Tuesday.

A memorandum of understanding between SDG&E and the county of San Diego establishes a $300,000 operating budget for fire season, with the utility covering the cost to operate the aircraft during the first two hours of flight time and the county responsible for the second two hours.

A second agreement between SDG&E and the city of San Diego establishes the municipality's fire department as the lead agency dispatching the aircraft to any wildfire upon request.

The spate of wildfires that ravaged the county four months ago "was a stark reminder of the importance of regional wildfire response," said John Sowers, vice president of electric distribution operations for SDG&E.

"As SDG&E took into account the damage and loss from the May firestorm, we were compelled to not only bring in again the Air-Crane for high-risk fire season but to also contract for another firefighting tool, the Type II helicopter," he said. "It is our hope that these two aerial assets will help firefighting agencies quickly suppress wildfires, limiting damage to the region and our gas and electric system."

With drought conditions continuing across California for a third year in a row, the county must remain "steadfast in its commitment to fire preparedness and prevention," San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar said.

"It is vital to have sufficient air support in the region so that we can quickly respond and suppress fires early in their development," he said.

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