It looks like an above-ground pool with an amazing view of Fallbrook.
Then a helicopter thunders overhead, hovers only a few feet above the pool and dips a large tube into the water.
The large round metal tub is actually San Diego County’s first rapid aerial water supply. The folks who built it call it a helicopter hydrant; heli-hydrant for short.
“This is critically important,” said North County Fire Protection District Chief Keith McReynolds. “It’s going to be incredibly beneficial for not only the Fallbrook, Bonsall, and Rainbow area, but for the entire region.”
Just like a fire hydrant makes it easy for a firetruck to get water, the heli-hydrant makes it easier for firefighting helicopters to get water in the North County mountains. A helicopter lowers its snorkel into the hydrant, takes what it needs, and flies back to the fire. The heli-hydrant will then automatically refill for the next helicopter.
Cal Fire partnered with North County Fire and the Rainbow Municipal Water District to put the 5,000-gallon heli-hydrant into service. Chief McReynolds said it will allow helicopters to refill their water tanks closer to a fire in the North County.
“It could take a 10- or 15-minute flight in one direction to find water,” said McReynolds. “Every minute counts in a firefight.”
“Right in this area? There isn’t a whole lot,” said Rainbow Municipal Water District General Manager Tom Kennedy.
Kennedy said the area has seen too many wildfires. Notably, the Lilac Fire tore through the area in 2017 and the Rice Fire damaged the area in 2007. The heli-hydrant sits in the middle of the Rice Fire footprint. Kennedy said every homeowner he spoke with welcomed the heli-hydrant.
“‘Wow, yeah. We’d love to have that resource in our neighborhood,’” he recalled.
“Fires are a big threat around here. So, it definitely makes us feel a lot safer,” said Deisy Ayala as she prepared several bouquets at Mike’s Flowers down the hill from the heli-hydrant.
Cal Fire Chief Tony Mecham said this is the first heli-hydrant in San Diego County, but he’d like to see dozens more. Kennedy and McReynolds both said it would be great to get state funding for the heli-hydrants.