SCE Funds Firefighting Helitanker
October 2020

Capt. Greg Barta of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) says the 2020 fire season can be described in one word: “Explosive.” “None of us are used to fighting fires during a pandemic, which is putting a strain on our resources, but we’re rising to the occasion,” he said. 

To help firefighters like Barta during this active fire season, Southern California Edison (SCE) is contributing about $2.2 million toward the OCFA’s lease of a Coulson-Unical CH-47 helitanker, beginning Oct. 1 through late December. The helitanker will be available around the clock and strengthen fire suppression within SCE’s 50,000-square-mile service area — and beyond, if needed.

“There is no higher priority for us than the safety of our customers, the communities we serve, our employees and contractors, and the firefighters and first responders who protect them,” said Kevin M. Payne, SCE president and CEO.

“The intensity of the 2020 wildfires so far, plus the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, have put pressure on the state’s firefighting resources,” he added. “With that in mind, it is a privilege for SCE to support the readiness of fire agencies such as the OCFA, which are on the front lines of protecting lives, property, and critical infrastructure.

The CH-47 Chinook helitanker is the world’s largest and most capable heavy-lift fire helicopter, able to drop 3,000 gallons of water or retardant in a single pass. The twin-engine, tandem rotor helicopter is being leased from, and is operated by, Coulson Aviation.

SCE’s funding of the helitanker lease is part of its Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which also includes enhanced inspections of infrastructure;  installation of hundreds of miles of insulated power lines and hundreds of fire-resistant poles; vegetation management of thousands of trees and brush to maintain a minimum 12-foot clearance from power lines; and the use of weather stations and high-definition cameras in high fire risk areas.

“The CH-47 Chinook helitanker is a force multiplier,” said Fire Chief Brian Fennessy of OCFA. “We are extremely grateful to Southern California Edison for once again providing critical aerial support during the height of fire season.” Last year, SCE provided OCFA with funding for a 1,000-gallon capacity helitanker that assisted with about 20 wildfires.

For Capt. Barta and his crews fighting fires in a record-breaking year in California, “If we get in a situation where a fire’s behavior changes and suddenly our teams are in harm’s way, having that helitanker up there to aid our firefighters is key. Being on the fire line and seeing that helitanker drop 3,000 gallons a minute, we know we are getting a difference-maker.

Learn more about how electric companies are preparing for and responding to wildfires in the latest issue of Electric Perspectives. Read the original story written by Ron Gales at Energized by Edison​.