How San Diego County Is Preparing for “When the Winds Blow”

When Santa Anas arrive, county officials want you to "Get Ready, Get Set, Go"

A third fire helicopter will be available this fall to help San Diego County battle a wildfire when the potentially dangerous Santa Ana winds arrive.

“We tend to not get one fire in San Diego. We get a lot of fires at the same time,” said Cal Fire in San Diego Fire Chief Tony Mecham.

All fire agencies are at peak staffing until significant rain falls. In addition, more equipment is being added in advance of the next red flag warning.

"We can never have enough when the winds blow,” Mecham said.

He and other county officials briefed the media Wednesday on how the county is getting ready in the event of another May Fires  - the day when nine fires were burning in the county at the same time.

For the next three months, firefighters will have access to a UH-1H Huey Helicopter.

The Gillespie Field-based helicopter has a 375 gallon bucket that can draw water from swimming pools, lakes or ponds.

The rented chopper will join two other Type 2 helicopters flown by the City of San Diego and paid for by a partnership between the county and SDG&E.

San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn said air support is key to holding fires at 10 acres or less. He would like to see the county eventually purchase up to five helicopters.

Mecham also outlined efforts to staff stations in Jacumba with career firefighters, add wildfire apparatus to the fleet and enhance recruiting for volunteers.

However, officials said, keeping the region safe is not solely the responsibility of firefighters. Residents should follow the "Get Ready, Get Set, Go" plan.

County Supervisor Diane Jacob suggested residents download the free emergency smart phone application SDEmergency and follow three key steps. 

GET READY: Do your 100-foot defensible space in advance
GET SET: Have an emergency plan. Pack your car when Santa Anas arrive.
GO: When told to leave, leave.

Sheriff Bill Gore added that everyone should register their cell phones with the Alert San Diego system. In May, the system wasn't as effective as it could be, he said.

An end to the drought would also help San Diego County avoid disaster, Gore said.

"Pray for rain out there," the sheriff said.

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