In June Wildfire Today told you that San Diego Gas and Electric had ordered a Sikorsky S-64F Air-crane helitanker, primarily to install electrical transmission towers on a new power line they are building, but that it would be shared with the local fire agencies if needed for fire suppression. SDG&E has taken delivery of the ship, now designated as helitanker 729 when fighting fire, or “Sunbird” when working on the powerline.
Here is an excerpt from a press release from SDG&E:
This firefighting-capable helicopter will be available to assist in fighting wildfires in the region through two cooperative agreements that will establish protocols for its use during critical fire emergencies. The agreements are similar to the ones prepared last fire season with SDG&E’s leased air crane. The first Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between SDG&E and the City of San Diego establishes that the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department will be the lead agency that would dispatch the Sun Bird to a wildfire upon request, beginning September 1 or sooner if needed.
“The sheer capacity of water this air tanker is capable of dropping will be paramount to our ability to suppress a wildfire early in the game,” said Chief Javier Mainar, of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. “Like last fire season with the leased air crane, we feel more prepared for what Mother Nature may send our way.”
The second MOU between SDG&E and the County of San Diego establishes a $300,000 operating budget for fire season, with SDG&E covering the cost to operate the helicopter during the first two hours of any new fire and the County of San Diego covering the second two hours. The pilots and mechanics, which will be provided by Erickson Air-Crane, are trained to maneuver this type of helicopter for both Sunrise construction and precision water dropping to target wild-land fires. Because of this agreement, San Diego County will not have to lease a helicopter to be on stand-by during fire season.