San Diego County supervisors are set to add a third firefighting helicopter.
The supervisors are expected to move ahead with plans for that purchase and adopt several other preparedness measures springing from the 14 wind-driven May wildfires that charred more than 26,000 acres and burned down 46 homes, primarily in North County.
The more than $30 million in damage from those fires represents the county’s worst firestorm since gargantuan fires in the county in 2003 and 2007.
County officials say a third, water-dropping helicopter costing around $5 million will significantly increase fire readiness by adding a major resource to stop or stem a fire. The two helicopters already in the county fleet are not always each available because of maintenance issues.
North County Supervisor Bill Horn said he believes the county should have as many as five helicopters and that he would like to see one stationed in North County.
It isn’t certain if a purchase can be made in time for this fire season. Even if it isn’t, the county has leased a third, UH-1H Huey helicopter that is based at Gillespie Field and can deploy alongside its two Bell 205 firefighting helicopters.
In addition to the choppers, the county has access to up to 10 fixed-wing state and federal agency aircraft to drop retardant and water, and local Marine Corps and Navy installations can provide up to 30 helicopters.
Other recommendations expected to win approval include stationing firefighters around the county during red flag conditions so they can more rapidly respond to a fire, adding more radio communication capabilities and contracting with the city of San Diego to use its helicopters to provide material and manpower lift capability and water-dropping at night.
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