SDG&E, county agree on deal for use of firefighting helicopter


A heavy-lift helicopter purchased by San Diego Gas & Electric to build the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line will be made available for local firefighting efforts, it was announced Monday.

The Erickson Air-Crane S64F Helitanker, nicknamed the “Sunbird,” is equipped with a hose snorkel capable of filling a tank on the aircraft with 2,500 gallons of water in less than 45 seconds that can then be dropped on a wildfire, according to SDG&E. A 400-gallon bucket can also be attached for firefighting uses.

SDG&E is expected to take possession of the helicopter sometime in August, according to Tim McLain, a spokesman in county Supervisor Ron Roberts’ office.

The county has agreed to pay $150,000 for the operation of the helicopter during wildfires for a one-year period and SDG&E will match that amount, according to McClain.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department will handle dispatching for the helicopter during fire suppression operations.

“With this matching investment from San Diego Gas & Electric, the county of San Diego gains an important insurance policy in its commitment to help fight fires anywhere in our 4,200-square-mile region, regardless of jurisdiction,’’ Roberts said.

The agreement to use the SDG&E helicopter to fight wildfires was announced by Roberts, San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer and SDG&E President Michael Niggli at the SDFRD’s repair facility in Kearny Mesa.

A similar agreement was reached last year for use of a helicopter leased by SDG&E.

According to SDG&E, the utility purchased the Erickson Air-Crane S64F Helitanker for the placement and installation of transmission towers along the 120-mile length of the controversial Sunrise Powerlink. The $2 billion project is intended to bring electricity to San Diego from Imperial County and Mexico.