Helitankers Prepare to Take Flight Against SoCal Wildfires

Southern California fire agencies, alongside SCE, debut the most effective water and retardant dropping helitankers in the world.
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Stories : Safety

Helitankers Prepare to Take Flight Against SoCal Wildfires

Southern California fire agencies, alongside SCE, debut the most effective water and retardant dropping helitankers in the world.
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Photo Credit: Elisa Ferrari

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California’s wildfire response efforts are about to get a huge boost with the addition of state-of-the-art firefighting equipment to help combat devastating wildfires throughout Southern California.

“It’s now more important than ever to stop the spread of fire,” said Fire Chief Brian Fennessy of the Orange County Fire Authority. “Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Southern California Edison, this Quick Reaction Force program is going to help firefighters on the ground save lives and property. This is the future of aerial firefighting.”

OCFA, alongside the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and SCE, recently held an event at Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos to debut the aircraft fleet. SCE contributed $18 million this year to lease the firefighting equipment after successful partnerships with OCFA in 2019 and last year.

The helitankers can function during the day and night, typically the best time to stop a wildfire, as winds die down, temperatures ease and humidity rises.
The helitankers can function during the day and night, typically the best time to stop a wildfire, as winds die down, temperatures ease and humidity rises.

“The innovation between Orange County Fire Authority and its partnership with Coulson Aviation and Southern California Edison has now multiplied,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen. “We are now covering SCE’s entire region.”

The Quick Reaction Force consists of two Coulson-Unical CH-47 helitankers that can each carry up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant, a Sikorsky-61 that can carry up to 1,000 gallons of water or retardant, a Sikorsky-76 intelligence and recon helicopter, as well as a mobile retardant base that can actively mix up to 18,000 gallons of retardant per hour.

The helitankers can function during the day and night, typically the best time to stop a wildfire, as winds die down, temperatures ease and humidity rises.

OCFA, LA County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and SCE recently held an event at Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos to debut the aircraft fleet
OCFA, LA County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department and SCE recently held an event at Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos to debut the aircraft fleet

“I can’t tell you, as it pertains to our ability to provide life safety services to our citizens in Southern California, just how much this program is going to significantly impact our ability to execute our mission,” said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby. “This past year has been tough for firefighters, and the fact we are bringing these helicopters is a significant plus in helping us stick to our state objective of keeping 90% of fires to 10 acres or less.”

Over the next six months, the three firefighting agencies will take the lead in the daily operation, dispatch and management of the aircraft across SCE’s 50,000-square-mile service area. Initially, one helicopter will be deployed in each county and will be available wherever needed by any of the partner fire departments. If needed, all four helicopters and the mobile retardant base will be assigned to a wildfire to provide overwhelming suppression power and allow for faster turnaround time.

SCE contributed $18 million this year to lease the firefighting equipment after successful partnerships with OCFA in 2019 and last year.
SCE contributed $18 million this year to lease the firefighting equipment after successful partnerships with OCFA in 2019 and last year.

“It’s an honor for Southern California Edison to partner with these fire agencies to help protect our communities as we face these unprecedented conditions together,” said Kevin Payne, SCE president and CEO. “About a quarter of our service area is high fire risk and working alongside the fire agencies is a critical piece of our comprehensive approach to addressing wildfire threat.”

For the past three years, SCE has contributed over $24 million toward the lease of these super-sized helitankers. This funding is part of the company’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which also includes enhanced inspections of infrastructure, installation of hundreds of miles of insulated power lines, vegetation management, weather stations, high-definition cameras in high fire risk areas and more.

“What you see here is what happens when people are dissatisfied with the status quo,” said Chief Lorenzen. “It causes innovation, it causes partnerships and that’s what’s happening here today. Your Southern California fire departments are prepared.”