California Agreement May Improve Aerial Firefighting

SAN DIEGO --

Leading up to this fire season, the "Superscoopers" are in place, Navy and Marine helicopters are now on board and air tankers are stationed.

If all goes according to plan, San Diego County firefighters will have the ability to fight fires from the air at night from virtually anywhere.

Copter One arrived after the Cedar Fire in 2003. Copter Two was a result of the 2007 wildfires.

But within a week or two, there will be a monumental change as to how both could be used.

"This is huge. This is history; this is literally history," said Deputy Chief Brian Fennessy.

San Diego Fire-Rescue crews have been training with night-vision capability for years.

What will be history is an agreement that would allow aerial firefighting at night in Cal Fire's jurisdiction.

"This is really setting up a model for the rest of the state. This partnership we have with Cal Fire extends well beyond this agreement. It's a result of the fires we've had over the last five years," said Fennessy.

During the 2007 wildfires, Copter One made water drops day and night, but only within city limits. The agreement changes that, and much more.

"Absolutely; having the ability to stop the threat before it comes into the city is a huge advantage," said pilot Chris Harnett.

While the goggles allow pilots to fly at night, conditions will dictate whether they could drop water.

"Once the 375 gallons is released from the helicopter, the wind will blow it away and it will not hit the target," said Harnett.

Flying lower in high winds raises the risk for aircraft and crew.

However, the new agreement at least allows for the possibility.

The agreement is scheduled to be signed Monday and go into effect Oct. 1.

The Sheriff's helicopter program is working on procedures to be allowed to do the same thing.

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