CLICK for video of Sunbird Helicopter Demonstration
SAN DIEGO – A giant helicopter that will help build the Sunrise Powerlink and fight fires was officially put into service Thursday. San Diego Gas and Electric gave a demonstration of its $30-million Erickson Air-Crane S64F Helitanker Thursday afternoon at Lake Hodges in Escondido. The utility will use the “Sunbird,” as the the new aircraft is called, to help build the Sunrise Powerlink. But it is also making it available to the county to fight wildfires. It can gather 2,500 gallons of water in 45 seconds.
Watch Video of the News Conference
“Bringing in a firefighting asset like this, that can be used for construction of our facilities to bring clean energy in, is a win-win for all of San Diego County,” said Mike Niggli, president and CEO of SDG&E.
County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who supports having the helicopter, said in a recent statement that there is a bit of irony.
“The only reason this chopper will be in our region is to build Sunrise. The chopper and Sunrise are connected. They are not independent. By agreeing to take on this resource, we should state for the record exactly why it’s here and disclose related fire dangers,” said Jacob.
In 2007, the wildfires that scorched the county were caused by sparks from arcing power lines. The Sunrise Powerlink is a transmission line that will be built from Imperial County through the mountains and back country of southeastern San Diego County. Powerlink opponents have argued that the Environmental Impact Report for the project showed a significant fire risk if the Powerlink was built.
“We’ve looked at that. We know that they’re taking prudent steps to minimize that. For San Diego Gas and Electric to make this available for firefighting is a very generous step on their part,” county Supervisor Ron Roberts said.

SDG&E and the county have set up a $300,000 fund to pay for the Sunbird’s firefighting operations.

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