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Helicopter hydrant will help fight wildfires in North County

New tool is first of its kind in county
Posted at 6:08 AM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 10:46:54-04

FALLBROOK, Calif. (KGTV) - Firefighters in North County have a new tool to help attack wildfires before they spread out of control.

The Rainbow Municipal Water Department teamed up with Cal Fire and the North County Fire Protection District to build a "heli-hydrant" in a remote area of Fallbrook.

Once it's finished, pilots can send a signal from their helicopter and fill a 5,000-gallon tank with water. They can then use that to fill their water tanks and make drops on spot fires.

The hydrant will cut down on the amount of time between drops, as pilots won't have to fly to natural water sources farther away.

"There's not a lot of surface water here in North County," says Rainbow Municipal Water Department General Manager Tom Kennedy. "Where there is, they're small, shallow ponds that might have twigs and frogs and other things that get sucked up into the helicopter and clog it."

"Having the quick turnaround time, especially when we're talking about the initial attack, that's crucial to keeping these fires small," says Capt. Thomas Shoots with Cal Fire.

The tank cost Rainbow $150,000. The water department has spent the last eight months working on the project, fast-tracking it to be ready for the coming wildfire season.

It's the only heli-hydrant in San Diego County and just the second in Southern California. Another one in Yorba Linda is already in use.

"In Yorba Linda, they were doing five dumps with the heli-hydrant to each one they were doing without it," says Glenn Chavez, the owner of the construction company that builds them.

Fire officials in North County call it a "game-changer" for fighting wildfires.

"We hope that we don't have to use it," says North County Fire Protection District Public Information Officer John Choi. "But if we do, We're sure glad that it's in our backyard."