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State, county combine helicopter resources, costs for firefighting, sheriff

April 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Southern California's warm, dry winter could spell disaster as we head into this year's fire season. And the state budget crisis could mean fire crews will be strapped for resources. But at least some agencies are now cooperating to help save lives and tax dollars.

When the Oak Glen Fire burned back in the summer of 2009, firefighting aircraft were a big part of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) efforts that kept damage to a minimum?

"Aircraft is a very, very important part of meeting the state's mission of suppressing 95 percent of all fires at 10 acres or less," said CAL FIRE San Bernardino Unit Chief Tim McClelland.

And even though because of budget problems a DC-10 water-dropping airplane is now only available on a call-when-needed basis, there will be a number of helicopters available, ready to take off at a moment's notice thanks to an agreement between San Bernardino County and the state.

During a demonstration Thursday in Rialto, McClelland said it's an agreement that's been in place for quite some time, and it's been quite effective.

"Without that partnership we wouldn't have that, we would have to go to neighboring counties, which is a longer amount of time to get their aircraft in here, so having these aircraft here benefits this county a great deal," said McClelland.

There are three helicopters the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department can share with CAL FIRE on an as-needed basis, now that CAL FIRE doesn't need to pay for the cost of the helicopter itself. CAL FIRE just needs to pay for labor and maintenance, so that can save the state a lot of money.

"Well everyone's hurting for money and if we can share resources, we can help them out and they can help us out. It's a real joint effort and we're going to see more continued cooperative efforts," said San Bernardino County Sheriff Rod Hoops.

What does the fire danger look like this year?

"We're going through the strategic discussions now, looking at the weather. Obviously we're in a drought situation where we're at quite a deficit in the amount of rainfall, so we would expect some activity here early in the season," said McClelland.

But even if there is early activity this season, because of this agreement, the helicopters will be ready.


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