SD city helicopters cleared to aid state in night firefighting


Cal Fire and the city of San Diego inked an agreement today clearing the city’s two emergency-services helicopters to fight fires at night in the 1.1 million local acres served by the state agency.

The agreement, signed by Cal Fire Chief Howard Windsor and San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, exempts the SDFRD aircraft - Copter 1 and Copter 2 - from a regulation that had prohibited their use in firefighting operations on land under state jurisdiction.

City air crews have been taking part for years in fire-suppression and search-and-rescue efforts across the county, often after dark. Under the new agreement, they will be available to do the same in Cal Fire’s service areas, which encompass much of eastern San Diego County, from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Riverside County line, according to Cal Fire Capt. Nick Schuler.

The locales in question include such wildfire-vulnerable communities as Julian, Ramona, Santa Ysabel, Warner Springs and Valley Center. The vast expanses of Cleveland National Forest, however, remain off-limits for the municipal helicopters, Schuler said.

The city air crews are able to fight fires at night through the use of state-of-the-art night-vision equipment that requires special training and certification, SDFRD spokesman Maurice Luque said.

The same kind of technology allows military pilots to fly sorties after dark in war zones, he said.

The new city-state arrangement is “just another option, another tool to be used in the event of fires breaking or night or at dusk,’’ Luque said.