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Valley Focus | Van Nuys

Firefighting Craft Take to the Air

September 25, 1998|MICHAEL BAKER

More than 8,500 gallons of water fell at Van Nuys Airport on Thursday, and it wasn't part of a fast-moving storm front.

Instead, the water was dropped from seven aircraft that are part of a joint city, county and federal firefighting arsenal.

The top firefighting brass from the county and city fire departments, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, were on hand to unveil the squadron and host a demonstration of the water and foam-dropping abilities of various aircraft.

With heavy hillside brush thriving since the El Nino storms, this year could be one of the worst fire seasons in recent history, said County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman.

"This is the time of year that we have the weather conditions for fast-moving fires," Freeman said. "This equipment gives us the ability to attack these fires quickly and successfully knock them down before they spread."

Leading the water-dropping parade was the city's mid-size firefighting chopper, which can hold about 350 gallons of water. Following it was the county's Bell-205, which holds 360 gallons.

With the approval of a $3.2-million budget for a contract aircraft program, county firefighters will also be able to lease the services of two Canadair SuperScoopers, which hold 1,620 gallons of water, along with the use of two heli-tankers.

Exclusive to the county is the use of an Erickson Air Crane, which has the greatest capacity--2,000 gallons--and the ability to refill its tank in about 45 seconds while hovering over a body of water at least 18 inches deep.

Joining the fleet for the first time will be a new Sikorsky Firehawk, which holds up to 1,000 gallons and is being used on a trial basis until the end of October. The Firehawk could eventually replace the county's fleet of Bell choppers.

The county also has a shared lease with the U.S. Forest Service to use a Heavy Lift Helitanker, manufactured for military use by an Apple Valley company.

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