Under a new, unique accord to be announced this morning, the San Diego Fire Department’s two firefighting helicopters, Copter I and Copter II, will be allowed to fly water-drop missions at night over state-controlled lands in certain circumstances.
CalFire, the state firefighting agency, has previously not allowed city helicopters to drop water on state-owned land because of safety concerns. But the agency has been working with the SDFD for months to draw up criteria for when such missions would be deemed serious enough for the helicopters to fly water-dropping missions.
Nick Schuler, a CalFire spokesman, said the agreement is a big step forward for fire protection in San Diego. He said the helicopters will be called on to drop water only in certain circumstances.
“If there is a threat to life or to structures, this gives us the ability to get those assets out at night,” Schuler said.
The agreement is unique in California, said Maurice Luque, the SDFD’s spokesman. The two city helicopters have been flying night missions on state-controlled lands for other reasons, such as medical pick-ups for years, Luque said, but this new agreement will make San Diego County the only county in the state where helicopters drop water at night on state-controlled land.
“CalFire has recognized the technology and the expertise the San Diego Fire Department has in using that technology to drop water at night, as we have done in San Diego and other cities in the county,” Luque said.
Earlier this year, CalFire announced it would begin training with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department to create a comprehensive, countywide aerial nighttime firefighting program. That agreement was heralded as a model pilot program for the state.
The moves to bring aerial nighttime firefighting to San Diego come in the wake of two devastating wildfires in recent years. The county is also currently in the midst of wildfire season. Hot, dry Santa Ana winds from the desert typically begin to blow across the region in late September and October, posing a serious risk of wildfires in San Diego.