CAL FIRE Fresno County gets exclusive access to firefighting chopper

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- In the midst of wildfire season in California, CAL FIRE Fresno County now has exclusive access to a tool that will give them the advantage from "above."

The chopper arrived at department headquarters in Sanger Monday and will be based there through October.

The Type 2 Bell 212 is equipped with a fire attack tank, capable of providing 370 gallons of water, and will be exclusively at the fingertips of CAL FIRE Fresno County when it's time to bring in air support.

Without an exclusive-use chopper, Fresno County would be at the mercy of whatever type of aircraft is available when an incident breaks out.

"The company has to be available. With these helicopters, they will be contracted out with PG&E and other utility companies, so trying to track one down for a fire is always hard," said CAL FIRE Engineer Curtis Wilcox.

The chopper will not only provide on-demand access to rural, hard-to-reach areas but has the ability to transport hand crews when necessary.

"So on those tough access lightning strikes, we could potentially load fire crews on board and get them out onto the fireline quicker than normal," said Wilcox.

With fewer water source options because of drought conditions, a pump allows the helicopter's tank to draw from more shallow waters.

"This pump could get into let's say, an 18-inch hole, and suck the water into a tank," Wilson explained.

After arriving at the helicopter base in Sanger Monday, the chopper was immediately put to use to assist with a fire in the Auberry area.

"There are a lot of fires happening right now," said Batallion Chief Dan Urias. "We understand that with the drought conditions and the high temperatures we have been having, there is potential for a lot more fires. CAL FIRE is prepared for what's to come."

This isn't the first fire season that CAL FIRE Fresno County gets its hands on an exclusive-use helicopter, but the contracts aren't always easy to secure. Officials say there are only about 10 exclusive-use contracts for helicopters across the state this fire season.
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