Newest firefighting chopper to be stationed in North County

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SAN DIEGO - The destructive wildfires in May prompted the placement of San Diego County’s newest firefighting tool to be stationed in North County, officials announced Monday.

Through agreements between the private sector and government agencies, there are eight fire helicopters in service in the county - including one managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Five helicopters are based at Gillespie Field and two stationed at Montgomery Field.

The newest air resource from San Diego Gas and Electric will be at the Olivenhain Municipal Water District treatment plant, just southwest of the Olivenhain Dam, west of Del Dios Highway and east of San Elijo Canyon, to help increase fire response time for residents in the North County.

SDG&E is under contract with City of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department for the 2014 fire season and has staged firefighting helicopters in positions to fight fires in the backcountry.

The fires that burned 40 structures in the Cocos Fire in San Marcos and the Poinsettia Fire that forced residents out of their homes and businesses along the coast served as a “game changer” in strategy, SDG&E officials said.

“This is really a big thing... it really is,” said Captain Tracy Hawk of the Pauma Reservation Fire Department.  “Minutes count when it comes to fires.”

Hawk has worked in the North County for 35 years and said he’s never seen such bone dry conditions.

“Having another aircraft that can respond within minutes to anywhere in North County you just can't put a price on that,” said Hawk.

He said with fire season here, everyone needs to be prepared in every part of San Diego County when flames erupt.

“I think some things are still going to happen in the next couple of years that have never been seen in this area before as far as wild land,” Hawk said. “The type of fires, how strong they are or how fast they move is going to be phenomenal.”