New Fire Helicopter Staged in San Diego's North County

San Diego's North County now has a fire helicopter stationed north of SR-52

The newest helicopter in San Diego County's growing wildfire arsenal is the first to be stationed in the North County.

San Diego Gas and Electric, under contract with City of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department to provide helicopters during the 2014 fire season, has staged the aircraft in positions to fight fires in the back country. For example, five are stationed at Gillespie Field in El Cajon.

However, the fires that threatened parts of San DIego County in May 2014 have served as "a game changer" in strategy, SDG&E officials said.

Forty structures burned in the Cocos Fire that swept through San Marcos and the City of Carlsbad watched as the Poinsettia Fire forced the evacuation of homes and businesses along the coast.

“Hopefully by having this resource in the North County we’ll be able to get on top of fires before they’re large enough to give them a name,” Larry Watt, Olivenhain Municipal Water District Board President said.

On Monday, Watt joined county firefighters and a representative from SDG&E to announce the newest air resource that will be positioned on OMWD land southwest of Olivenhain Dam, west of Del Dios Highway and east of San Elijo Canyon.

Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Fire Department Chief Frank Twohy Elfin said he was in awe with how quickly the plan fell into place.

“It benefits everybody. Imagine the idea of OMWD a water district benefitting not only their residents but the residents outside their service area,” he said adding that the North Zone chiefs were all very grateful for the resource.

In 2003 when the Cedar and Paradise Fires killed 16 people and burned more than 320,000 acres, there were no fire helicopters available to help ground crews.

When San Diego experienced three devastating fires in the same week in 2007, there were three fire helicopters available.

Now, through agreements between the private sector and government agencies, there are eight fire helicopters in service in the county including one managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

In addition to the one at OMWD, five helicopters are based at Gillespie Field in El Cajon and two are stationed at Montgomery Field.

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