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2 of world’s largest helitankers back on duty to fight wildfires in Southern California

A fleet of aircraft including two of the world’s largest water-dropping helicopters return to duty this summer, as warmer temperatures coupled with consecutive years of drought heighten the risk of wildfires in Southern California.

The Quick Response Force is made up of a mobile fire-retardant base, one firefighting helicopter, another for reconnaissance, two Chinook CH-47 helitankers and their respective crews. They have been standing at the ready since June 24, and will be on call to respond to fires in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties until mid-November.

Their period of service encompasses the hottest and the windiest portions of the year in California, a state that has experienced eight years of drought over the past decade. That has led to some of the driest conditions on record along the west coast, elevating the potential for a disastrous wildfire, National Weather Meteorologist Tyler Salas said.

This year is the second the force has been assembled to bolster the efforts of emergency responders amidst peak fire weather in Southern California, fires officials in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange counties and Southern California Edison said in a joint news release Friday.

In 2021, the aircraft were deployed more than 50 times, officials said, and helped tackle emergencies like the Tuna fire in Malibu.

The two CH-47s can each hold up to 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant, making them some of the largest firefighting aircraft in the world. They, as well as the smaller Sikorsky 61 helitanker with a 1,000 gallon capacity, can refill their tanks while hovering and can fly and drop their payloads day or night.

The Quick Response force was funded by Southern California Edison at a cost of $18 million.

The utility’s powerlines have been linked to the origins of previous wildfires. In 2021, the company was among several Southern California energy providers that submitted plans to the state’s Public Utilities Commission to spend a combined $13 billion to reduce the risk of their equipment sparking a fire.

Source: Orange County Register

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