A very unique water source for firefighting helicopters in Southern California is being upgraded. Called 69Bravo Helistop, the facility on one of the highest peaks in the Topanga area of the Santa Monica Mountains has been an excellent source for virtually unlimited water for helicopters fighting wildfires in the area. It has four dip or snorkel tanks which enable helicopters with external buckets or fixed tanks to quickly refill with water. The buckets are lowered into the tanks, while helicopters with “snorkels” lower a hose with a pump into the water.
There are also two landing pads where helicopters that must land to refill can obtain water from fire hoses which will be connected to the tanks by on-scene firefighters. Or, pilots can land and take a break if needed.
The facility was built by the very generous land owner and has been used with his permission. Several years ago Los Angeles County arranged to purchase the 34-acre property at a price reportedly less than half the market value, making payments over a seven-year period ending in 2024.
The new owners are making even more improvements, such as replacing the four 6,000-gallon fabric “pumpkin” water tanks, with metal 8,000-gallon tanks. The water system keeps the tanks full automatically by using water from an on-site well.
Dust and debris which can cause problems while hovering is abated with underground pop-up sprinklers which can be triggered by air crews using a smart phone app. The app also provides real time access to on-site cameras, weather data from the base’s weather station, remote control of lighting for the helipads and wind sock, and real-time water usage statistics for each pumpkin.
If the present California drought is amplified this summer by hot, dry, windy weather, 69Bravo could be put to the test servicing large helicopters battling wildfires. The Topanga New Times is reporting that Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura Counties have each secured the use of a Chinook Helicopter for the coming fire season, beginning June 15. In addition, LA and Ventura Counties have FireHawk helicopters capable of holding up to 1,000 gallons in their external belly tanks.
The video below describes 69Bravo.
A video shot during the Topanga Fire September 8, 2020 shows helicopters, sometimes three at a time, refilling at the site hauling a total of 76,000 gallons to the fire. The still image below is from that video.