New Firefighting Helicopter Coming To San Diego

Entire county poised to benefit from SDG&E's custom helitanker

Supervisor Ron Roberts joined Monday morning with Councilman Kevin Faulconer and SDG&E President Michael Niggli to unveil the newest firefighting resource for all of San Diego County: The Sunbird Helitanker. 

Custom built for, and purchased by, SDG&E, the Erickson Air-Crane S64F Helitanker nicknamed the Sunbird can drop about 2,600 gallons of water and retardant on a fire then refill in as little as 45 seconds. 

The County of San Diego and SDG&E are each setting aside $150,000 that will used to pay to fly the chopper against fires anywhere in the county, whether it be in a city like Carlsbad or a rural area like Jamul. The city of San Diego will handle the dispatching service. 

"In the last decade, I have been involved in securing four full-time firefighting helicopters for our region," says Roberts. "It is hard to believe that before then we owned none. The amazing helicopter announced today is a perfect insurance policy, the big guy you bring in to keep a fire from getting out of control while supporting your firefighters on the ground."

The new helicopter is expected to arrive by late August, just prior to the start of San Diego's traditional fire season. SDG&E will use the helicopter initially to replace wooden utility poles in the backcountry with steel poles. If the Sunrise Power Line project is approved, the helicopter would be used it its construction. In the event of a fire, the helicopter can be retrofitted with a 400 gallon bucket or 2,500 gallon tank for a water and retardant foam mix in a matter of hours. 

"With this matching investment from San Diego Gas & Electric, our County gains an important insurance policy in its commitment to help fight fires anywhere in our 4,200-square-mile region, regardless of jurisdiction," Roberts continues. "Fire officials will be able to react confidently in sending the Helitanker into action without having to first check whether an individual city or fire district can afford the service."