As the wildfire scene increases across California and here in San Luis Obispo, counties are taking action to address the need for reliable air support.
According to a Direct Relief press release, The Thomas Fire followed by the Montecito debris flow significantly tested Santa Barbara County’s helicopters. Air support administered 26 medical evacuations and 131 hoist operations to rescue people during the flooding and mudslides. The department says they respond to more than 15,000 incidents annually.
In response to improving air support, Santa Barbara County purchased a Blackhawk helicopter from the U.S. Army to be converted into a Firehawk. A Firehawk is a two engine aircraft with faster flight times, longer fuel cycles and overall better performance.
The new aircraft will not only provide fire aid to areas along the central coast but statewide to help fight the fires.
The organization, “Direct Relief”, made a $400,000 donation to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department to help cover the cost of converting the helicopter. In Feb. 2018, the Santa Barbara Vintners Association held their biennial wine auction for Direct Relief, donating a portion of their proceeds to make Direct Relief’s donation possible.
The county says they still need around $3 million to completely upgrade the aircraft. Donations are being accepted on Direct Reliefs website.