San Diego County

San Diego County Shopping for Long-Sought-After Firefighting Helicopter

The county's current fleet of single-engine helicopters cannot fly at night or carry as much water, but a new twin-engine helicopter will address those issues

NBC Universal, Inc.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to purchase a twin-engine helicopter to help battle wildfires.

The supervisors' decision will allow the Department of Purchasing and Contracting director to negotiate a fair price for a Bell 412 EPX Helicopter.

According to information on the supervisors' agenda, the helicopter is estimated to cost $16 million.

Board chairman Nathan Fletcher made the proposal, and said getting the helicopter "has been a long-desired goal," as the region deals with a higher risk of wildfires. He also thanked the San Diego County Sheriff's Department for its assistance with funding.

Fletcher added that the county's current fleet of single-engine helicopters cannot fly at night or carry as much water, but a twin-engine helicopter will address those issues.

As of now, the county's aerial fleet consists of single-engine helicopters with 1960s and 1970s airframes.

Supervisor Jim Desmond credited Fletcher for bringing the proposal forward.

"You need to provide the best firefighting capability possible," he said.

In a related action, supervisors also unanimously approved a roadside vegetation management and evacuation preparedness program, along with a contract with Perimeter Solutions to provide a brand of fire retardant.

In a statement released after the vote, Fletcher said the plan continues the commitment "this Board of Supervisors made last year to ensure our county is ready to respond to wildfires, and take the preventative measures necessary to protect residents and their property. We will invest where necessary to keep San Diegans safe."

According to Fletcher's office, a total of 79% of the county's unincorporated area is designated as high or very high fire-hazard severity zones.

Last year, supervisors approved the creation of an expanded roadside vegetation management program.

County Fire and Department of Public Works officials then identified 200 lane-miles of what are considered critical evacuation corridors, with single entry and exit points that may benefit from additional roadside vegetation management, according to Fletcher's office.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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