Crews offer air support  in response to the Bernardo Fire in May 2014. Photo credit: Chris Stone.
Crews offer air support in response to the Bernardo Fire in May 2014. Photo credit: Chris Stone.

Agreements between the city and county of San Diego and San Diego Gas & Electric will lead to the utility paying for air support costs of up to $300,000 in the event of more wildfires in the region.

SDG&E’s contribution will cover the services of an Erikson Air-Crane helitanker, an expense the utility has paid for the last five years in the region. The money also covers the addition of a Type II helicopter, from Helistream Aviation, through November. The most intense part of the local fire season is typically from early-to-mid fall.

John Sowers, vice president of electric distribution operations for SDG&E, said he hopes “that these two aerial assets will help firefighting agencies quickly suppress wildfires, limiting damage to the region and our gas and electric system.”

SDG&E was blamed for allowing problem power lines to spark a 2007 wildfire in San Diego County, leading to litigation and regulatory battles between the utility, the state, contractors and more than 1,000 victims who lost homes or structures in the blazes.

The agreements establish the operating budget for use of the aircraft, with SDG&E paying for the first two hours of emergency response and the county then assuming the costs with money from its Aerial Fire Protection Fund. The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department was named the lead agency, with the discretion to summon the Air-Crane and Type II when needed for wildfires.

Officials praised the partnership, calling air support crucial to battling wildfires before they can race out of control.

“Collaboration between public and private entities over the past several years has been vital to ensuring that our region is well prepared for the next emergency,” said San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, adding that he was pleased SDG&E was willing to bring in a second helicopter.

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