Boeing applies for patent on parachute-delivered fire suppression system

Boeing Patent App

An illustration from Boeing’s patent application #13/776,733

The Boeing Company has applied for a patent on a parachute-based system for applying a suppressant to fires. The devices would be ejected from an aircraft and descend to the fire at 30 to 200 mph. A guidance system would use a glide control structure to fly along a calculated path from the ejection point to the designated location of the fire. The release altitude would be determined by a GPS or a radar altimeter assisted by a fire detection sensor that would increase the accuracy of the flight.

An optional component would be a lighter than air balloon that would inflate and carry the device away from the fire after the suppressant is released. The location of the equipment would be tracked remotely and when over a suitable site the balloon would be deflated so that the unit could be recovered.

The patent lists 15 different possibilities for the suppression agent that would be dispersed over the fire:

suppression agents

This reminds us of the “precision container aerial delivery system” (PCAD) that attempts to re-invent air tankers by dropping 200-gallon plywood/plastic containers of retardant or water, each weighing about 2,000 pounds, from a normally-configured C-130 or C-27. We categorized that as a “lame-ass idea”, primarily because of the danger to anyone on the ground if a chute did not open, the difficulty in providing consistent coverage, and the 100 pounds of plywood, plastic, fabric, and strapping that would be scattered around the landscape. 

Boeing’s idea also has the disadvantage of danger to ground personnel if a chute did not open, but they partially solved the litter problem by guiding the device to a more convenient location where it could be recovered. Consistent coverage would also be an issue. However, we can see a use for Boeing’s system for retarding the spread of small lightning fires at night, when firefighting helicopters and air tankers are grounded. The cargo planes carrying the devices , such as the recently acquired U.S. Forest Service C-130s, could safely fly at night high above the terrain and the fire.

Of course the biggest disadvantage of the Boeing concept is the cost. The high-tech devices will not be inexpensive.

While this may be not practical because of costs and other issues, it is fascinating to hear about outside the box thinking regarding an industry that still uses sharpened pieces of metal attached to the ends of sticks for suppressing fires.

You can read the details about the patent application (1.3 MB file): BoeingPatentApp

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Isaac.


Wildfire briefing, August 31, 2014

Happy Camp Complex InciWeb photo

Happy Camp Complex Fire. InciWeb photo (undated & uncredited).

Happy Camp Complex

The Happy Camp Complex of fires in a remote area of northwestern California continued to chew up additional acres on Saturday, though at a somewhat slower rate than the previous two days. Now mapped at 62,626 acres, a 24-hour increase of 4,904 acres, it has reached Highway 96 near the small community of Seiad Valley. Several areas are under a mandatory evacuation order affecting 250 homes, and approximately 695 homes are threatened. The fire is being fought by 2,116 personnel, 52 crews, 137 engines, 19 helicopters and 18 dozers. The incident management team is calling it 15 percent contained.

The fire is burning in an area infamous for inversions that trap wildfire smoke, at times making it difficult for firefighting aircraft to fly, and firefighters and residents to breathe.

More information about the Happy Camp Complex of fires.

Uncredited photos on InciWeb

It is unfortunate that we don’t know who took the excellent photo posted above. Public Information personnel posting photos on InciWeb REALLY need to provide at least four pieces of information about each photo: 1) photographer’s name, 2) date taken, 3) location, and 4) a description.

Dust from wildfire causes traffic problems

Dust being blown off a recent wildfire close to Interstate 90 near Vantage, Washington resulted in a 20-mile stretch of the highway being closed on Thursday and Friday.

Fifteen cars and nine tractor-trailers collided in the area on Thursday, leaving nearly a dozen people injured and causing a pileup that snarled traffic on the main route across Washington state, authorities said. According to Trooper Darren Wright, it’s not yet known how the pileup started.

A third DC-10 joins the fleet

Tankers 910, 911, 912 at Merced

Tankers 910, 911, and 912 at Castle Airport, August 30, 2014. Photo by 10 Tanker.

A third DC-10 jumbo jet has been converted into an air tanker. 10 Tanker Air Carrier announced Saturday that Tanker 912 has been fully certified and has joined the other two DC-10s temporarily based at Castle Airport near Merced, California.

Report released on CL-415 accident

A report has been released on the CL-415 air tanker accident that occurred on Moosehead Lake in Newfoundland and Labrador July 3, 2013. Details are at Fire Aviation.


Washington Post: Congress should do more to protect the country from wildfires

Eiler Fire, burned structure

A burned structure and another that survived the Eiler Fire 40 miles east of Redding, California. Photo taken August 6, 2014 by by Bill Gabbert.

Below are excerpts from an article in the August 28 edition of the Washington Post, written by Peter Goldmark, the Washington state commissioner of public lands.


Congress should do more to protect the country from wildfires

…By failing to provide an emergency funding source for federal firefighting efforts, Congress has forced the U.S. Forest Service to pay for its firefighting efforts by cannibalizing programs that promote healthy forests and wildfire prevention. A recent report from the agency reveals that its firefighting workforce has more than doubled since 1998 while the number of its land managers has shrunk by 35 percent.

Despite the scale of disasters such as the Carlton Complex, Congress still pays for federal wildland firefighting as though it were lawn mowing or picnic-table painting or any other routine administrative task. Several bipartisan legislative proposals would instead allow the Forest Service to tap into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster fund to fight wildfires, as the federal government does when responding to other natural disasters. Faced with yet another opportunity to fix this situation before adjourning for a five-week recess, Congress failed to act.

According to Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group, twice as many acres burn and three times as many structures are destroyed during each wildlife season as in 1990, and the season now lasts two months longer.

Congress should provide emergency funding to fight wildfires while greatly increasing the budget for stewardship of America’s shamefully neglected national forests. We must fix this broken model before more people, communities and wildlife suffer needless harm.


Fire weather outlook, August 29 through September 2

An upper level trough will cross the northwest Pacific states Fri/Sat and eject into the central Plains on Sun. This will bring periodic windy conditions across the western US and cooler weather for the northwest. No critical widespread critical fire weather is expected, although some areas will have enhanced conditions that will aid in fire spread, especially with drought conditions across the west. Continued heat is expected for the southwest with dry conditions prevailing.

The primary fire threat across the US will focus on warm temperatures and low RHs in the western Great Basin Fri and Sat. Breezy westerly winds are expected Fri/Sat especially across much of NV due to the approaching upper level trough. As the trough shifts eastward, wind conditions will move across northern UT and southern WY/northern CO into Sun/Mon. Dry conditions over much of WY/CO will provide an increased fire risk with these strong westerly winds.

The southwestern US will remain dry and hot through the period. Portions of central/eastern CA/NV/AZ will have poor RH recovery overnight. Though no windy conditions are expected across this region, above average temps and below average precipitation will lead to conditions conducive to human caused fire starts and challenges for suppression

A cold front crossing WA/OR will bring breezy conditions Fri, however, temperatures are expected to remain cool and RH is expected to remain above critical levels. A lack of upper level moisture will prevent any thunderstorm development, however some light rains are possible along western slopes. A stable post-frontal air mass will provide quiet conditions for the Pacific Northwest and eastward with the front’s advancement through the weekend. Cooler weather is expected to continue through the period for WA/northern OR/MT/northern ID with warming conditions likely Tues in advance of the next system.

Long term into mid-week, a summer type pattern looks to return for the central US with another trough pushing into the west. This may develop enhanced fire weather conditions across the western US mid-week and central Rockies mid-to-late week and should be monitored.

Five-day precipitation outlook

Five-day precipitation outlook, issued August 29, 2014.

Weather Highlights:

Eastern CA/NV: Breezy westerly winds Fri/Sat with low RH and warm temperatures. Locally critical fire weather is possible, otherwise generally enhanced fire weather is expected across the region. Winds will be decreasing Sun.

WA/OR: Breezy conditions are likely today across central portions of OR/WA on the eastern sides of the Cascades. Moderate temperatures and RH should prevent any increased fire risks. Warming with decreasing RH across southern OR late weekend and moving northward into next week.

Southern WY/northern CO/northern UT/southern ID: Developing strong westerly winds Sun/Mon. Combined with warm and dry conditions, this will lead to an enhanced fire threat continuing into mid-week.

Southern/central CA/AZ: Continued warm and dry with poor RH recovery. Some breezy winds Fri in eastern CA, otherwise no significant winds/thunderstorms.


California: Happy Camp Complex of fires

(UPDATED at 11:08 a.m. MDT, August 30, 2014)

Pyrocumulus cloud over the Happy Camp Complex of fires, August 28, 2014

Pyrocumulus cloud over the Happy Camp Complex of fires, August 28, 2014. Photo by Kari Greer.

The growth of the Happy Camp Complex Fire on Friday was similar to the day before. Continued spread to the northeast added another 13,000 acres and brought the 57,722-acre fire to the banks of the Klamath River at the community of Seiad Valley. Exhibiting intense fire behavior it traveled north approximately three quarters of a mile up the Grider Creek drainage below a pyrocumulus cloud that formed above the large column of smoke.

The mandatory evacuations from Friday remain in effect. Communities that are threatened by the fire include Happy Camp, Elk Creek, Seiad Valley, Hamburg, Kelsey Creek and Scott Bar. Structure protection groups are placed in strategic locations to assist in protecting homes and property should the fire move into these areas.

Click on the maps of the Happy Camp Complex below to see slightly larger versions.

Map Happy Camp Cmplx

Map of the Happy Camp Complex of fires at 12:05 a.m. MDT, 8-30-2014.

3-D Map Happy Camp Cmplx

3-D Map of the Happy Camp Complex of fires at 12:05 a.m. MDT, 8-30-2014.


(Originally published at 10:06 a.m. MDT, August 29, 2014)

An MD-87 drops on the Happy Camp Complex

An MD-87 drops on the Happy Camp Complex. InciWeb photo.

The Happy Camp Complex of fires grew by 12,000 acres on Thursday, requiring additional mandatory evacuations in the Seiad Valley area, including:

  • Scott Valley Road from Bridge Flat to the intersection of Hwy. 96.
  • All areas south of Hwy. 96 between Scott River Road and Grider Creek.
  • All areas south of Hwy. 96 from Seiad Valley down river to Kade Summit.

Other areas are under an evacuation advisory.

On Thursday the two largest and most active fires in the Complex, the Faulkstein and Frying Pan Fires, spread rapidly on the east side aided by long-range spotting. The fires grew together when an inversion broke, followed by a west wind that pushed the fire to the northeast. Burning embers were carried a mile and a half in front of the fire.

As you can see on the maps below, the fire is 38 miles southwest of Medford, Oregon and less than two miles from Seiad Valley, California on Highway 96.
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