An Orange County Fire Authority captain Sunday said the department is looking forward to gaining access to helicopters capable of unloading 3,000 gallons of water or flame retardant for the upcoming wildfire season this summer.

The usage of Boeing Chinook Helitankers is being financed with nearly $18 million in Southern California Edison funding for the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) program, deploying the world’s largest helicopters that can fly not only during the day but also for night-time operations, officials said.

The QRF program officially launches Tuesday.

“That’s a lot of firefighting power, if you will, when you can drop 3,000 gallons of water onto a brush fire. It’s an important tool,” Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Thanh Nguyen told City News Service. “We’re grateful that we will be able to use it. It’s impressive.”

Millions of residents in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties are among the most vulnerable living within wildfire-prone areas, fire experts said. Extreme drought conditions and dry vegetation, along with predictions of a dire wildfire season ahead, led to the formation of the QRF program.

“Generally, when we get a wildfire, it’s accompanied with strong winds,” Nguyen said. “(Helicopter) pilots have a lot to contend with.”

The QRF program contracts exclusively for up to 180 days with Coulson Aviation to combine aerial firefighting resources, pre-assembled in Los Angeles (Van Nuys Tanker Base), Orange and Ventura counties, with a mobile retardant base and hover-filling tanks.

Considered the world’s largest fire suppression, retardant-dropping helicopters, the Boeing Chinook Helitankers (CH47s) each have the capacity to carry 3,000 gallons, and can fly not only during the day but also for night-time operations, which is a historic first, officials said.

For the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the CH47s will further enhance the department’s current air operations fleet which includes five Sikorsky S70 Firehawks and five Bell 412 helicopters, in addition to a seasonal contract with the Government of Quebec for the 90-day lease of two CL-415 SuperScoopers expected to arrive in early September 2021, officials said.

The QRF program officially launches on Tuesday — the day the State of California officially reopens from the pandemic. There will be an advance 10:30 a.m. Monday news conference at the Joint Forces Training base Los Alamitos, 11206 Lexington Drive, in Los Alamitos, where Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen and Southern California Edison President and CEO Kevin Payne are expected to be in attendance. A hover-filling and water-dropping demonstration will follow the news conference.

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