World’s largest helicopters join firefighting fleet

A Los Angeles County Fire Department Boeing Chinook CH-47 helitanker makes a water drop. Courtesy of Doug Morrison/LACoFD Photographer

With fire experts predicting a “dire” wildfire season ahead, some of the world’s largest firefighting helicopters are set to join the Southern California region’s wildfire-suppression arsenal Tuesday. 

In a partnership between Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties and supported by Southern California Edison with nearly $18 million in funding, the Quick Reaction Force program is set to benefit residents of these counties who are among the most vulnerable to wildfires amid extreme drought conditions and dry vegetation.

Starting Tuesday, the program contracts with Coulson Aviation for up to 180 days to provide additional aerial firefighting resources to the region, including the CH-47 helitankers, with one based at Van Nuys Air Tanker Base another at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, and a Sikorsky S-61 helitanker based in Ventura County, along with a mobile retardant base and hover-filling tanks.

Southern California fire officials stand in front of a new mobile retardant base. Courtesy

The Boeing Chinook CH-47 helitankers are considered the world’s largest fire suppression, retardant-dropping helicopters, with the capacity to carry 3,000 gallons — triple that of a typical firefighting helicopter — and ability to fly at night, according to fire officials.

Here in L.A. County, the CH-47’s are set to join the Fire Department’s Air Operations fleet of 10 helicopters — comprised of three Bell 412EP’s, two Bell 412HP’s, three Sikorsky S-70A Firehawks and two Sikorsky S-70i Firehawks — and two CL-415 Super Scoopers leased each wildfire season from the government of Quebec in Canada for 90 days, which are expected to arrive in early September.

“We’re extremely happy to be able to utilize some of the best and most cutting-edge technology that is available,” said L.A. County Fire Department Spokesman Jonathan Matheny. “It’s pretty remarkable.”

A Los Angeles County Fire Department Boeing Chinook CH-47 helitanker prepares for takeoff. Courtesy

The arrival of the CH-47’s comes as the Santa Clarita Valley is under an excessive heat warning, with temperatures expected to remain in the triple digits through the week, according to National Weather Service officials.

“We’re already seeing vegetation very dry for this year; typically, we don’t see this kind of dry fuels until August,” NWS meteorologist David Gomberg said in a previous Signal interview. “We’re really about six to eight weeks ahead of schedule in terms of that … you put the heat wave on top of this very dry vegetation and it’s definitely a concern.”

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