Google’s new Android weather widget for cell phones

nexus oneGoogle introduced their new new Nexus One cell phone today at a press conference. This is the first phone that is shipping with the new Android 2.1 operating system, which has at least a couple of interesting new features. Every field where you need to enter text is voice enabled. That is, you can either type the information, or you can speak it and the voice recognition system reportedly does a pretty good job of entering what you said .There is no physical keyboard, but there is a virtual one that pops up on the screen when it is needed. So if you need to do a lot of typing on your phone, it is not the phone for you.

The other feature that is now possible with the new version of the operating system is a weather widget. It uses the built-in GPS receiver to determine your location, then displays the weather conditions and forecasts for your area that it collects from But as Google tends to do sometimes, it does it in an innovative way, at least for a cell phone. It will display the temperature and the humidity for the day in a graph, both the past and forecast data. This is available from the home screen, so there is not a lot of clicking involved.

Photo: Gizmodo
Photo: Gizmodo

The phone can get the data from a wireless network or from a cell phone system as long as you have a signal from a tower. While this will never replace having a dedicated fire weather forecaster at your beck and call on a large incident, it could be quite valuable for the firefighter out on the fireline.

The phone is available today from Google, or from T-Mobile for $179 with a contract. In the spring it will be available from Verizon.

The new Android 2.1 operating system that ships with the Nexus One will be pushed out to the existing Motorola Droid owners in a couple of days, making the new weather widget available on those phones as well. I have a Droid and am very satisfied with it. (UPDATE, Jan. 29. The Motorola CEO, Sanjay Jha, who said the new operating system would be pushed out in a couple of days was wrong. As of today it still has not happened, and it may not occur for days, weeks, or months.)

T-Mobile does not have great coverage in the rural areas where most vegetation fires occur, but Verizon’s coverage is much better, making the Droid or the Nexus One when it is available from Verizon pretty good choices for wildland firefighters. HERE is a map on which you can choose a cell phone provider and “select layer to display” to compare coverage levels.

There is another weather application that is available now on Android phones that will collect data from the nearest weather station even if it is a RAWS station. Or at least once after I installed it today I saw that it displayed weather from a RAWS station, but later it got it from a conventional station. Maybe it just gets the latest data within a certain radius of your specified location, but unlike the new widget described above, it does not use your phone’s GPS to determine your location. The program can also display radar and satellite maps. It is called “Weather by Michael Bachman” and is free. It gets the weather data from the Weather Underground site.

UPDATE: April 6, 2010

Today we wrote an updated article about the Android 2.1 News and Weather widget, including how to set up within it a wildfire news tab.

Top wildland fire stories of 2009-with poll

In the United States, at least, 2009 was less busy than your average year, in terms of the number of fires and the total acres burned. In the lower 49 states, 2,720,903 acres burned, which is the lowest number since 2004.

But it was a fairly busy year for wildland fire news. We have put together some of the stories we consider to be the most newsworthy. They are listed here, and below you will have a chance to vote on the ones that you consider to be the top stories. This list does not include the line of duty deaths which we reported earlier, except in the case of the Andrew Palmer fatality investigation report which exposed a great many issues affecting firefighter safety, and survival following an accident.

Feb. 8: Black Saturday fires kill 173 people in Australia

Mar. 7: Raymond Lee Oyler convicted and sentenced to death for Esperanza fire deaths

Apr. 20: Series of 5 articles on wildfire in L. A. Times wins Pulitzer Prize

Apr. 23: 76 homes burn in North Myrtle Beach, SC fire

May 6: Jesusita fire near Santa Barbara; 4 FF entrapments; 77 homes burn.

Jun. 27: San Diego Gas and Electric agrees to pay $686 million to insurance companies that paid claims to their customers for the 2007 Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires.

Jul. 19: Dozens of firefighters are sickened by Norovirus at Redrock and Trailer 1 fires north of Reno.

Aug. 22: Eight members of the Klamath Hot Shots were injured when thier crew carrier was involved in a crash on Highway 99 in northern California.

Aug. 26: The 90-acre Big Meadow prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park escapes and eventually burns 7,418 acres.

Aug. 26: The Station fire started near Los Angeles, eventually burning 160,000 acres. A controversy erupted over accusations that the US Forest Service used less than aggressive tactics on day two of the fire, causing it to become larger than it would have if more resources had been assigned.

Nov. 3: Andrew Palmer fatality report released; many issues identified related to emergency medical care and transportation.

November 8: David Monington pleads guilty to forging wildland fire training certificates.

Dec. 3: USDA Inspector General finds no misconduct in Esperanza fire deaths

(no specific date) Very Large Air Tankers play a significant role in fire suppression in California, and possibly Australia.
Martin Mars:

And now YOU have a chance to select the stories that you consider to be the most significant.  Choose FOUR from the list below.

Choose four of the wildfire stories you consider the most significant of 2009.

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Wildland firefighter LODDs, 2009

2009 proved again that wildland firefighting is still a very hazardous occupation. Here is a list of the wildland fire related line of duty deaths of which we are aware. We make no claim that it is a complete or official tally, but we did the best we could. If you are aware of any that we missed, let us know.

Jan. 4: A father and son, driving separate fire department vehicles, collided in dense smoke while responding to a vegetation fire. John C. Meyers of the Wesley FD in Oklohoma, died.

Feb. 17: A firefighter with the Australian Capital Territories Fire Brigade in Australia was killed when a tree fell onto a fire apparatus.

Feb. 20: John Adams with the Silver City VFD in Oklahoma collapsed and died while working on a vegetation fire near Mannford, OK.

Mar. 8: Pilot Roger Hershner died when his helicopter crashed in Kansas while ferrying the ship to the location of a fire contract in Virginia.

Mar.15: Lt. Roger Vorwark collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack while working on a vegetation fire in Odessa, Missouri.

Mar. 21: Gregory Carroll Cooke went into cardiac arrest and died while working on a vegetation fire near Whitakers, North Carolina.

Apr. 8: Pilot Heath Van Handel, a DNR employee, died when his spotter plane crashed while working over a fire near Cary, Wisconsin.

Apr. 8: New Zealand firefighter killed by falling branch

Apr. 25: P2V Air tanker crash kills 3 near Toole, Utah: Tom Risk, Pilot, of Littleton CA, Mike Flynn, co-pilot, of Alamogordo, NM and Brian Buss ,Crew chief of Alberton Montana.

May 15: Chief Trent Hill of the Keswick Valley FD, New Brunswick, Canada, died from an apparent heart attack while working on a vegetation fire.

Jun. 18: Two people were killed when a firefighting helicopter crashed into a lake in southwestern Turkey.

Jun. 26: BLM firefighter Brett Stearns was killed by a falling tree while working on a hazard-tree removal project 15 miles northeast of Craig, Colorado.

Jul 21-23: Five firefighters died while working on vegetation fires in the north of Spain.

Jul. 21: Thomas Marovich died in a heli-rappelling training accident on the Backbone fire near Willowcreek, California.

Jul. 29: A bulldozer operator was killed on a fire in Spain.

Aug. 14: Pilot Robert Christopher Woodhead was killed when his helicopter crashed into the Fraser River in British Columbia, Canada.

Aug. 20: Pilot Dave Jamsa died when his single engine air tanker crashed while working on the Hoyt fire 25 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada.

Aug. 27: The pilot of an air tanker was killed while working on a fire on the Ionian Sea island of Kefalonia near Greece.

Aug. 31: Two Los Angeles County firefighters, Capt. Tedmund D. Hall, and Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo Quinones, were killed when their vehicle ran off the road and was burned over on the Station fire.

Dec. 9; New South Wales firefighter, Aaron Harber, killed in helicopter crash

Our sincere condolences to the families and co-workers of all of these firefighters.

And, as usual, “Let’s Be Careful Out There“.

Will the Osprey ever fight fires?

Osprey. USAF photo
Osprey. USAF photo

The Osprey, a tilt-rotor, vertical take-off and landing aircraft, is replacing some of the Vietnam era CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters used by the Marine Corps. Since the disastrous wildfires in southern California in 2007, the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps have had an agreement with Cal Fire making it possible to use their military helicopters on fires if Cal Fire is unable to handle the fires with their own aerial assets.

In July of 2008, CH-46E and CH-53E military helicopters made at least 574 drops on fires in California, delivering 217,000 gallons of water.

At first glance, the Osprey might seem like an excellent firefighting tool. It is fast (cruises at 277 mph), could haul 24-32 firefighters, and could carry 1,800 gallons of water externally. But it has never dropped a gallon of water on a fire and it is possible that it never will due to at least two potential problem areas.

Rotor Wash

As you can see in the photo above, the rotor wash or downdraft from an Osprey is extremely strong–far stronger than a conventional helicopter. Rotor wash from a helicopter can cause, and has caused, serious problems when the wind from the rotors spreads the fire in unexpected directions, sometimes doing more harm than good. Marines even worry that Osprey rotor wash may damage or destroy unrecorded archaeological sites in training areas.

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the rotor wash creates enough force to knock sailors and aircraft off a flight deck on a ship.

May CAUSE fires

The Osprey’s engines run extremely hot, so hot that the Navy is taking special precautions to prevent the engine exhaust from melting or buckling the aluminum decks of warships. A report from DARPA states:

The deployment of the MV-22 Osprey has resulted in ship flight deck buckling that has been attributed to the excessive heat impact from engine exhaust plumes… Navy studies have indicated that repeated deck buckling will likely cause deck failure before planned ship life.

DARPA has designed a “flight deck thermal management system” which would liquid-cool the deck from below or above while the aircraft are idling or launching. The military has put out a request for proposals for other permanent deck-cooling systems that could be retro-fitted or designed into new ships still on the drawing board.

Wildfire Today reported on May 30, 2009, that an Osprey made an unscheduled precautionary landing in North Carolina and started a 5-acre fire in a wet marsh. We wrote then:

Marines refueled the Osprey but according to, upon taking off it “smashed into swamp mud, nose first”. During that takeoff attempt, heat from the engine exhaust started a vegetation fire which did some damage to the exterior of the aircraft.

A news release from the Marine Corp claims:

The grass fire was quickly extinguished by the crew chief, but caused an undetermined amount of heat damage to the aircraft exterior.

But Emergency Management Director Eddie King said the local fire department had to work through the night to extinguish a 5-acre fire, in an area infested with snakes and alligators, that was caused by the incident.

Osprey hauling a Humvee. U.S. Navy photo.
Osprey hauling a Humvee. U.S. Navy photo.

NTSB releases factual report on crash of Tanker 09

Tanker 09 last drop
Air tanker 09 making their last drop, September 1, 2008 before it crashed at Reno later that day.

UPDATE July 4, 2012: HERE is a link to the NTSB’s Probable Cause report. More information is at the NTSB site.


The factual report that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released on December 28 about the crash of Tanker 09 on September 1, 2008 does not have any surprises. Witnesses had reported that the left turbojet engine on the P2V was on fire during takeoff from Reno. The report confirms there was a compressor disc failure in that engine.

Here are some excerpts from the report:

The airplane is powered by two radial, 18 cylinder, aircooled, Curtiss Wright R3350-32WA engines, rated at 2,800 horsepower, driving Hamilton Standard hydromatic propellers, and two auxiliary Westinghouse J34-WE-36 turbojet engines, each rated at 1,500 pounds of thrust. The turbojet engines were installed to improve takeoff characteristics at increased gross weights and to furnish additional power when required.


The airplane’s left outboard engine (position #1) was a Westinghouse J34-WE-36 turbojet engine, serial number 211235. Total time on the engine was 703.4 hours, 384.4 hours since overhaul, and 64 hours since its last inspection.


The engine originally had been in service with the United States Navy, and at the time of its initial civilian installation on a Black Hills Aviation P2V on May 16, 1986, it had accrued 458.7 hours since new, and 128.4 hours since overhaul.


After in-depth inspection and analysis, it was determined that the 11th stage compressor disc had failed near the transition radius between the disc web and the bolting ring. This engine was manufactured by Westinghouse, identified as model J34-WE-36, serial number 211235.


The airplane’s left outboard engine, serial number 211235, was located about 580 feet from the IIP on a measured magnetic heading of 239 degrees. A visual examination at the wreckage site revealed that the engine’s compressor section had separated prior to impact.

Three aerial firefighters were killed in the crash: Pilots Gene Wahlstrom and Greg Gonsioroski, and mechanic Zachary Vander Griend. Mr. Wahlstrom was the chief pilot for Neptune Aviation, and it was Mr. Vander Griend’s first flight in a P2V.

The NTSB has not released a factual report on the other crash of a Neptune Aviation P2V, Tanker 42, which occurred on April 25, 2009 near Toole, Utah. Their preliminary report, released 5 days after the crash which killed the three crew members, can be found HERE.