2 of world's largest helitankers back on duty to fight wildfires in SoCal

The $18M Quick Response Force is on call to help three county's crews for the second year in a row


Eric Licas
Daily Breeze

TORRANCE, Calif. — 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.

A Boeing CH-47 Chinook helitanker dumps 3,000 gallons of water during a demonstration at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, Calif., on June 14, 2021. Two of this model of aircraft are part of the regional Quick Reaction Force, which was formed through a partnership among Southern California Edison, the Orange County Fire Authority, and the fire departments of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
A Boeing CH-47 Chinook helitanker dumps 3,000 gallons of water during a demonstration at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, Calif., on June 14, 2021. Two of this model of aircraft are part of the regional Quick Reaction Force, which was formed through a partnership among Southern California Edison, the Orange County Fire Authority, and the fire departments of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. (Photo/Jeff Gritchen/Orange County Register/SCNG/Tribune News Service)

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.

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(c)2022 Daily Breeze, Torrance, Calif.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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