SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Utility and public safety officials Monday heralded the return to the San Diego area of a large firefighting aircraft capable of dousing wildland blazes with up to 2,650 gallons of water or fire suppressant at a time.
San Diego Gas & Electric's Erickson Skycrane "Sun Bird'' helitanker, which will serve the county for a seventh straight year, helped extinguish two fast-moving brush fires just days after its arrival in the region last month.
SDG&E and the county recently renewed a contract that allows the chopper to be available locally through 2022.
"The Skycrane has been a critical asset over the past several years, and we're pleased to continue our collaboration with the county of San Diego to make this amazing aircraft available for our region once again,'' said Caroline Winn, SDG&E's chief energy delivery officer.
The helitanker is a "significant and welcome addition to our regional firefighting arsenal every year,'' Cal Fire Chief Tony Mecham said.
"As we've seen already this summer, the air crane's quick response and decisive attack make a critical difference by stopping a wildfire before it has a chance to spread,'' Mecham said. "Having the helitanker close by and available ... provides an extra measure of insurance for our community.''
The Skycrane is stationed at SDG&E's aviation-services facility at Gillespie Field in El Cajon and will stay through October -- or longer, if fire conditions warrant.
"This year, we're anticipating another year of higher fire activity fueled by a more abundant grass crop than we've seen in quite a while,'' San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said.
"Specific areas of concern are the city of San Diego's many open-space islands, such as Mission Valley, Tecolote, (Rancho) Penasquitos, San Clemente and Rose Canyons, but we expect to see very volatile wildland fire conditions across the county this fall,'' he said.
At the request of local fire agencies, SDG&E also has added two additional weather stations to its current network of more than 170 -- one in Mission Valley and another in southern Orange County -- for improved readiness during extreme fire-climate events in those communities.
"Every year for nearly a decade, we have been expanding our (fire- preparedness) toolkit, adding new technologies and bringing in new partners,'' Winn said.
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