Dan Rice speaks at the unveiling of the Erickson Air-Crane in a hanger at Gillespie Field. Photo by Chris Jennewein

On a hot Thursday in East County, San Diego Gas & Electric showed off “Goliath,” a giant water-dropping helicopter brought in a month early to fight this summer’s wildfires.

The Erickson Air-Crane, a heavily modified version of a military helicopter, can carry 2,650 gallons of water to drop on fires. That’s the equivalent of six normal firefighting helicopters.

“While this aircraft can do great things, it becomes exceptional when combined with the resources of our state,” said Dan Rice, SDG&E’s aviation services manager, referring to the Cal Fire and San Diego Fire-Rescue officials on hand for the aircraft’s unveiling in a hanger at Gillespie Field.

The Erickson Air-Crane “Goliath.” Photo by Chris Jennewein

For the sixth year in a row, SDG&E is splitting the $300,000 cost of renting the aircraft, which will be on standby until November. It takes just 20 minutes to prepare the copter for a flight to a wildfire.

“With the ongoing drought, and the rash of wildfires burning in California right now, having the helitanker available provides an extra measure of ‘fire insurance’ for the entire region,” said Cal Fire Chief Tony Mecham.

Supervisor Bill Horn noted that with a growing fleet of helicopters, and help from the military, most San Diego wildfires are kept under 10 acres. He thanked SDG&E for its continued commitment to public safety in the region.

“We are more prepared now than we have ever been,” Horn said.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.