SDG&E’S FIREFIGHTING AIR-CRANE NOW STATIONED IN EAST COUNTY YEAR-ROUND

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Utility also announces it has begun installing portable generators to minimize planned power outages in critical wildfire areas and will open Community Resource Centers during fire events.

By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor

September 14, 2018 (El Cajon) - With the threat of wildfires now constant rather than a fall season rite of passage, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) held a press conference last week to showcase its innovative firefighting “Air-Crane” at a Gillespie Field hangar.

SDG&E has contracted for the Air-Crane, the largest water-dropping helitanker in the nation, to remain stationed at Gillespie Field year-round for dispatch by CAL FIRE when needed. It previously had been leased for four months (August through November).

Due to the extreme wildfire conditions, it already has responded to more wildfires this year than all of 2017, according to SDG&E.

The behemoth holds 2,650 gallons of water or fire suppressant  and can drop the equivalent of what five fire engines carry. The craft can be maneuvered over a nearby body of water where a large hose can be dropped and suck up its water load in 45 seconds allowing it to return to the fire zone quickly.

SDGE will report the up-to-the-minute work of the Air-Crane via Twitter with the hashtag #SkyMaverickSDGE.

On the heels of criticism of its recently enacted plans of shutting off power in high fire threat areas, SDGE says that fewer customers will now be impacted when powerlines in the area are de-energized as a part of the utility’s “Public Safety Power Shutoff” program.

The stated goal of the installation of portable generators (left) is to focus on reducing the impact of mandated power shutoffs to customers by sectionalizing electric circuits by employing technology that could reduce the number of customers impacted during a shutoff. The generators are controlled by remote control at the utility’s central distribution center.

Asked how the utility will handle residents with chronic health conditions who are dependent on stationary home medical devices, SDG&E’ Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Winn (below right) left the press conference without responding. A press spokesman later told ECM that residents will have access to evacuation centers equipped with water, snacks, and access to electronic device charging stations and Wi-Fi signals.

These Community Resource Centers will be open during extended power shutoffs lasting more than 24 hours. The hours of the center will vary based on each shutoff event and will be hosted by Community Emergency Response Teams. and will provide up-to-date information, and basic needs like water, snacks and a place to charge cell phones.

Campo

Campo Community Resource Center

Golden Acorn Casino & Travel Center

1800 Golden Acorn Way, Campo, CA 91906

Descanso

Descanso Community Resource Center

Camp Oliver Lodge

8761 Riverside Drive A, Descanso 91916

Dulzura

Dulzura Community Resource Center

Dulzura Community Center

1136 Community Building Road, Dulzura 91917

Jacumba

Jacumba Community Resource Center

Jacumba Highland Community Church

44645 Old Hwy 80, Jacumba 91934

Julian

Julian Community Resource Center

Whispering Winds Catholic Camp

17606 Harrison Park Road, Julian

Lake Morena

Lake Morena Community Resource Center

Lake Morena Community Church

29765 Oak Drive, Campo 91906

Mt. Empire

Mt. Empire Community Resource Center

Mtn. Empire Unified District Office/Schools

3305 Buckman Springs Road, Campo

Warner Springs

Warner Springs Community Resource Center

Warner Springs Resource Center

30950 Highway 79 Warner Springs, CA

Spokesperson Allison Torres told ECM that the questions about the fate of homebound residents would be forwarded to Winn, but ECM did not receive an answer from Winn.

SDG&E has launched a wildfire safety page. Around-the-clock weather information, live views of fire-threat areas and additional safety information are available at sdge.com/wildfire-safety. Concerned residents can also access the utility’s highly sophisticated weather page (staffed by its own 24 hour team of meteorologists) at sdgeweather.com.

At the press event with prewritten statements read by Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Winn and CALFIRE/San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham, both expressed the need for more sophisticated tools to aid on scene firefighters.

“We are working hard to mitigate the risks associated with this ‘new normal’ of a year-round wildfire season and trying to protect the people and communities we serve,” said Winn. “Together, we can continue to enhance public safety and make our region more resilient. The new, enhanced preparedness efforts will complement SDG&E’s decade-long comprehensive fire risk mitigation program designed to prevent the ignition of wildfires.”

Photo, left:  ECM reporter Paul Kruze in front of Air-Crane.

“The SDG&E Air-crane has been and will continue to be a game changer for CAL FIRE and the San Diego County Fire Authority,” said Chief Mecham. “To have this critical tool available to us during the early stages of a fire has already had a very real impact on fires this year.”

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells also welcomed the permanent staging of the aircraft at Gillespie Field at the press event.

The Air-crane helitanker was built by Erickson Aviation, based in Portland, OR and is utilized in firefighting, timber harvesting, infrastructure, and in the gas and oil industry around the world.

Video link: Air-Crane at work

Follow Paul Kruze on Twitter and Facebook: @PaulKruzeNews