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Large firefighting helicopter now based on South Coast in time for high wildfire season

Coulson Aviation photo
A Sikorski S-61helitanker is now stationed at Camarillo Airport thanks to Southern California Edison, which is paying Coulson Aviation to have four helicopters on standby in Southern California for wildfires during the next few months

Part of the Quick Reaction Force of four choppers commissioned to be on standby by Southern California Edison.

Ventura County has been beefing up its aviation unit during the last few years, replacing some firefighting helicopters dating back to the Vietnam War Era. Now, just in time for peak fire season, the county is getting some extra help.

A utility company is paying for a command helicopter, and three large air helitankers to be on standby in Southern California, including one stationed at Camarillo Airport.

"This the second year we are a part of this funded by Southern California Edison, working with Coulson Aviation," said Ventura County Fire Captain Jeff Seabrook.

He's manager of the County’s Aviation Unit. Seabrook says the Sikorski S-61helitanker in Ventura County will provide a big backup to the county’s half dozen helicopters. It can carry a thousand gallons of water or fire retardant at a time.

Southern California Edison is committed up to $18 million to have the four helicopters on standby. Two of the other helicopters are twin-engine choppers which can carry 3,000 gallons of water a trip.

Having the helicopters on standby is expensive. While firefighting helicopters might not be needed in a given week, you still have to have crews ready to go. The Edison money means that during a major fire, firefighters don't have to waste hours, or even days to find, and hire outside crews to help.

Scott Thomsen is the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Ventura County Fire Department.

"It's an additional resources which goes beyond what we already have," said Thomsen.

If there's a major fire in the region, additional helicopters from the unit can be requested.

The large helitankers may not see use on every brush fire. Ventura County’s half dozen helicopters can handle most smaller sized blazes.

Seabrook says the Aviation Unit is geared up for its busiest time of year, which is the next six months.

The leased helitanker arrived in Ventura County Tuesday, where it will be stationed at Camarillo Airport through high fire season. It comes with a tractor-trailer rig which can be deployed near fires so the chopper doesn’t have to return to base to fill up with fire retardant for drops.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.