SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved a proposal from Supervisor Ron Roberts to fund up to 20 hours of additional flying time by a super-sized, water-dropping helicopter this fire season.
“This is great news for the county, its residents and our 18 cities,” Roberts said. “Fires know no boundaries, and neither should our resources. Now if a major blaze erupts anywhere in our 4,200-square-mile region, we can concentrate on protecting our people and property without worrying about who will be paying to fly the Incredible Hulk, the most capable helicopter in our aerial fleet.”
The issue of funding additional flying time arose following news on Oct. 8 that San Diego Gas & Electric was generously agreeing to pay the cost of leasing and staffing an S-64E Helitanker for use by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department during the 2009 wildfire season.
The SDG&E package included funding of two hours of flight time per fire incident. Left unanswered, however, was what happens after two hours?
Under the new plan, the cost of flying the Helitanker beyond two hours per incident will be covered from a $250,000 county fund already established to rent additional firefighting assets when conditions warrant.
The charge from SDG&E for operating the Incredible Hulk beyond two hours per incident is a deeply discounted $7,500 per hour. That figure is less than what the county was expecting to pay per-hour to preposition firefighting aircraft, whether they flew or not. The maximum that can be spent is $150,000. If the funds are called on, the county will, where appropriate, apply for reimbursements from state and federal sources.
Currently, the region’s existing helicopters can deliver up to 375 gallons of water per-drop on a fire. The Incredible Hulk can pour up to 2,600 gallons on a blaze and then refill in less than a minute from a shallow or deep body of water. On a single fuel load, the helicopter could potentially drop between 70,0000 to 80,000 gallons of water and retardant.