San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) unveiled the latest additions to its fire-preparedness toolkit for this year, which includes the return of the Erickson Skycrane "Sun Bird" for the seventh straight year. The helitanker, which holds a maximum of 2,650 gallons of water or fire suppressant and can get airborne in just 15 minutes, already helped knock down two fast-moving brushfires just days after its arrival in San Diego on July 1.
"The Skycrane has been a critical asset over the past several years and we're pleased to continue our collaboration with the County of San Diego to make this amazing aircraft available for our region once again," said Caroline Winn, SDG&E's chief energy delivery officer. "SDG&E is on a journey of continuous improvement to help enhance our company's overall fire preparedness and the safety of our communities. Recently, we developed a wildfire risk reduction model that will help us make smart, cost-effective decisions about infrastructure investments that can have the greatest impact on safety."
"When it comes to facing down inevitable wildfires, San Diego County has never been in better shape," said Ron Roberts, County Board of Supervisors chairman.
"We have excellent working partnerships with public safety agencies and the private sector – especially with SDG&E which we have partnered with on new fire preparedness technologies and with bringing a helitanker to town during the region's peak fire season."
Recently, SDG&E and the County renewed their joint contract that will ensure the Skycrane will be available through 2022 for regional fire suppression.
"The helitanker is a significant and welcome addition to our regional firefighting arsenal every year," said CAL FIRE Chief Tony Mecham. "As we've seen already this summer, the air crane's quick response and decisive attack make a critical difference by stopping a wildfire before it has a chance to spread. Having the helitanker close by and available, if needed, provides an extra measure of insurance for our community."
The Skycrane is stationed at SDG&E's Aviation Services facility at Gillespie Field in El Cajon and will stay through October this year – or longer, if fire conditions warrant.
"This year, we're anticipating another year of higher fire activity fueled by a more abundant grass crop than we've seen in quite a while," said San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. "Specific areas of concern are the City of San Diego's many open space islands, such as Mission Valley, Tecolote, Penasquito, San Clemente and Rose Canyons, but we expect to see very volatile wildland fire conditions across the county this fall."
At the request of local fire agencies, SDG&E has added two additional weather stations to its current network of more than 170 – one in Mission Valley and another in southern Orange County – to improve the situational awareness during extreme fire-weather events in those communities.
To develop the wildfire risk reduction model, SDG&E looked at every component of its overhead electric system – not just power lines and poles, but switches, fuses and cross-arms – taking into account size and age as well as the potential associated loss and replacement costs if a fire were to start. The model is based on tens of millions of computer simulations of fire ignitions and how they could spread based on various conditions. SDG&E is working on translating the model for operational use by factoring in weather conditions and fuel-moisture data to fine-tune the risk forecast daily.
"Every year, for nearly a decade, we have been expanding our toolkit, adding new technologies and bringing in new partners," said Winn. "Bottom line, though, the most significant, most valuable and most consistent community resource we have is collaboration."