Santa Barbara County firefighters just got a little bit more help from some friends. Thanks to a generous donation from the Craig and Susan McCaw Foundation, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department was able to partner with Guardian Helicopter Inc. to provide additional wildland firefighting capabilities in the County.
The partnership is not costing the taxpayers because the donation by the Craig and Susan McCaw Foundation absorbs the costs associated with the use of the Guardian firefighting helicopter.
Guardian Helicopters is a privately owned company based out of the Van Nuys Airport. The company provides firefighting helicopters for the forestry service and other government contracts.
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the contract between Guardian and the County took effect during the summer of 2014, but remains in place for the 2016 fire season, which has already seen multiple wildfires, including June's Sherpa Fire.
"With a helicopter based at the Santa Barbara airport that will be the first piece of firefighting equipment on the scene, of any fire that starts in the foothills. It gets water on that fire right away. And if we can keep the forward spread of that fire from advancing, that's the whole goal," said Captain David Zaniboni.
"The SBCFD uses the water-dropping helicopter services during high fire danger weather patterns, primarily during Red Flag Warnings. During these weather patterns, the helicopter, when available, is based at the Santa Barbara Airport and is available for vegetation fires in the County," said Zaniboni (in a press statement.)
Currently, the Fire Air Support Unit, which includes three water-dropping helicopters, is shared with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, and is based out of Santa Ynez Airport.
The additional Guardian helicopter is placed in the front country and based at the Santa Barbara Airport during critical fire conditions. This allows for quicker fire attacks in the front country during wildfires.
Some of the more dangerous areas of the front country, which haven't seen fire in years, are located in the Montecito and Carpinteria Hills. The helicopter will be able to go where engines might have trouble with access.
(more information and video will be added here later today)