Cal Fire San Diego has leased a firefighting helicopter to operate out of the Ramona airport — outfitted with a contract pilot — to bolster the region’s aerial firefighting capability, officials said.
The Sikorsky EH1 helicopter, often called a Skycrane, carries up to 2,650 gallons of water. The helicopter became operational Monday.
It’s the latest addition of aerial firefighting weapons in San Diego County. Earlier this year, the county approved a plan to buy a dual-engine helicopter for the Sheriff’s Department for firefighting, and San Diego Gas & Electric acquired the use of two more choppers for its fleet. The city of San Diego and the U.S. Forest Service also have helicopters used to fight fires.
The state’s $3.4 million contract with a company called Helicopter Transport Services gives Cal Fire exclusive use of the Skycrane and also provides a pilot and mechanics for the aircraft, which can be deployed to neighboring counties as needed. They are considered statewide resources, officials said.
Cal Fire San Diego will have use of the aircraft for one year, with two one-year extensions to the contract possible. The state now has 19 “exclusive use” contracts for firefighting helicopters, including 10 helitankers, a type of copter capable of dropping at least 1,100 gallons of water, foam, or retardant, said Cal Fire Capt. Robert Foxworthy.
Before this agreement, Cal Fire didn’t have any helicopters based in San Diego County, with the closest one based at the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in Riverside County. The helicopter will only be used in the daytime, officials said.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.