OCFA helicopter crew trains for wildfires with Laguna Beach’s mobile water tank

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An Orange County Fire Authority helicopter hovers near Laguna Beach’s new HeloPod on Nov. 10. Courtesy of Laguna Beach

An Orange County Fire Authority helicopter crew made two water drops in an open space area on Tuesday after refilling from Laguna Beach’s mobile water tank system.

The so-called HeloPod Dip Tank is positioned along the fire road about three-quarters of a mile from Top of the World, Fire Chief Mike Garcia said.

“It’s an area we’ve used for manual filling of helicopters in the past,” Garcia said.

The Laguna Beach Fire Department plans to keep the system there until mid-December when it will be trailered and stored elsewhere until late July. Fire officials can reinstall it before then if needed.

This mobile water tank will allow firefighting helicopters to refill more quickly, reducing the time between water drops. Helicopters can also refill from the Sulphur Creek Reservoir in Laguna Niguel but firefighters prefer to have water sources as close to the fireline as possible. The Pacific Ocean is used as a last resort because saltwater corrodes components on the multi-million aircraft.

In October, the Laguna Beach City Council voted to spend $53,000 on a HeloPod, which is shaped like a shipping container and can be remotely-activated to fill with up to 5,300 gallons in seven minutes. OCFA helicopters can lower a snorkel to suck up hundreds of gallons without having to land, power down, and take on water from a waiting firefighter crew.

Laguna Beach fire officials also looked for a potential second HeloPod site in South Laguna, Laguna Canyon, and near El Morro Elementary. So far, they haven’t found one that meets OCFA’s requirements. The City Council has directed city staff to keep looking for a suitable second location.

The helicopter refilling system was one of many recommendations in the Wildfire Safety and Mitigation Report approved by the City Council last year.

The Laguna Beach Fire Department deployed its HeloPod Dip Tank on Nov. 10. Courtesy of Laguna Beach
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