San Diego County Board of Supervisors


Contacts: Anita Lightfoot, 619-531-4709, 619-550-9798, Steve Schmidt, 619-206-9108,







A new firefighting helicopter is poised and ready for duty in San Diego County, just in time for peak wildfire season.

Based at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, the Bell 205 A-1 ++ joins two other firefighting helicopters flown by ASTREA, the Sheriff’s Department aviation unit. It can hoist equipment, ferry firefighters and carries a 375-gallon water tank for fire suppression.

“This third helicopter means we will always have 2 helicopters ready to fly when a fire starts to burn,” said Chairman Bill Horn. “Attacking a fire quickly from above and containing the flames to 10 acres or fewer is critical in saving lives and property.”

Horn called for the new helicopter in the wake of the May 2014 wildfires. Following those blazes, Supervisor Dianne Jacob initiated a county study that spurred additional fire protection improvements.

“The new helicopter brings more muscle to our firefighting efforts as we enter the most dangerous time of the year,” said Jacob. “Attacking fires quickly from the air can keep a minor blaze from becoming a regional catastrophe.”

The addition of a third firefighting helicopter makes it possible for ASTREA to operate at least two of the aircraft at the same time, giving fire authorities greater flexibility during a crisis. When the county only had two helicopters, routine maintenance or repairs often limited flight time.

The new helicopter, which cost $4.4 million, seats nine passengers and can haul a 4,000-pound payload.

In the past 12 years, the county has invested more than $320 million on fire protection improvements, including new stations, equipment and a more professionally trained firefighting force. It created the county Fire Authority in 2008 to bolster fire and emergency medical services.