With San Diego now experiencing a continuous fire season, San Diego Gas & Electric announced Wednesday it has contracted for year-round use of a giant Erickson Aircrane helicopter tanker.
“We are working hard to mitigate the risks associated with this ‘new normal’ of a year-round wildfire season and trying to protect the people and communities we serve,” said Caroline Winn, SDG&E’s chief operating officer, in making the announcement.
The Aircrane can carry 2,650 gallons of water — seven times the capacity of other fire-fighting helicopters — and refill from a lake in 45 seconds. The giant orange craft is flown by Erickson pilots under the direction of Cal Fire.
The utility has engaged an Aircrane during the traditional three-month fire season for the past eight years, but Winn said San Diego County is now in the “year-round grip” of wildfires.
“The SDG&E Aircrane has been and will continue to be a game-changer for Cal Fire,” said San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham. “To have this critical tool available to us during the early stages of a fire has already had a very real impact on fires this year.”
In addition, to year-round use of the Aircrane, Winn also announced that the utility is taking steps to help customers whose power must be cut during a wildfire emergency. She said the utility is installing equipment to reduce the number of circuits affected, and planning for nine centers where residents can go for information, snacks and to charge cellphones.
The utility is making use of remote cameras and weather equipment to track fires, and on Wednesday unveiled a public web page with this information at sdge.com/wildfire-safety.
Winn said increasing use of the giant Aircrane already this year has made the craft something of a local attraction. She announced a Twitter handle for people to follow the craft’s activity at @SkyMaverickSDGE.