San Francisco: lighter than air ship

One day we may see a lighter than air ship hovering over wildland fires for 24 hours at a time, providing a platform for aircraft coordination, radio repeaters, lookouts, and live video.

In the meantime, beginning in November there will be a rigid-frame Zeppelin NT filled with non-flammable helium in the San Francisco area providing scenic tours for the public, operated by Airship Ventures.

For a mere $500 an hour, you will be able to fly out of three airports in the Bay area and cruise along at 35-40 mph checking out the Golden Gate Bridge, sailboats in the bay, and the wine country. Or if you want to propose to your girlfriend in a way that provides a story to tell, rent the whole 12-passenger aircraft for about $6,000 an hour.

The Zeppelin NT has four propellers powered by three engines. Three of the props provide vectored thrust. Here is the way it is described on the company’s web site:

Unique in the aviation world, two lateral vectored thrust engines provide flexible flight characteristics. Each engine can be rotated 120° and combined with variable pitch propellers, give the airship unmatched ability to stop, hover, land and climb vertically. At the tail of the ship two propellers work off of one engine with a remarkable engine transmission. Here one propeller provides lateral thrust, similar to a helicopter tail rotor and the other propeller can rotate 120° to provide added hover capabilities or when lifted, provide forward thrust, synchronized with the other two engines.

The aircraft is larger than it appears in the photos. It is 246-feet long, compared to a Boeing 747 which is 232-feet long. The Goodyear blimp comes in at 192 feet.

The numbers:

  • 35-40 mph: cruising speed
  • 78 mph: top speed
  • 560 miles: range
  • 24 hours: maximum endurance
  • 12: passengers
  • 4,299 pounds: useful load

Here is a 90-second video that shows the ship coming in for a landing. The pilot rotates the engines to produce downward thrust to hold it to the ground. Other videos show the ship “hovering” on the ground while they swap loads of passengers.

Wildfire news, October 9, 2008

California: update on Camp Pendleton fire


(Photos were taken Wednesday)

The “November” fire that started on the military base 40 miles north of San Diego at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday grew to about 1,000 acres by late evening and is 70% contained, Cal Fire Capt. Nick Schuler said. The fire is adjacent to a golf course but no structures are threatened. It is burning in an area used to train Marines in disposing of explosives.

Firefighters were using a total of 10 aircraft yesterday, including the two CL-415 “Super Scoopers” that San Diego County has on contract from a Canadian company. The CL-415’s were scooping water out of the Pacific ocean which was just a few miles from the fire.

The humidity is expected to remain high throughout the day today, which will help firefighters pick up that additional 30% containment.

Camp Pendleton, one of the largest bases in the country, takes up 125,000 acres in northern San Diego County. It is home to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The Marine Corps established the base in 1942.

Photos, courtesy of

Update at 12:50 PT, Thursday, Oct. 9

The fire is now 100% contained at “1,400 to 1,900 acres”, according to Marine Major Kristen Lasica.

Researchers: Ozone pollution in wildfires exceeds health standards

According to a press release from the National Science Foundation:

Wildfires can boost ozone pollution to levels that violate U.S. health standards, a new study concludes. 

The research, by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., focused on California wildfires in 2007, finding that they repeatedly caused ground-level ozone to spike to unhealthy levels across a broad area, including much of rural California as well as neighboring Nevada.

Results of the study are published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which sponsors NCAR, and by NASA.

“It’s important to understand the health impacts of wildfires,” says NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister, the paper’s lead author. “We found that ozone can hit unhealthy levels even in places where you are not seeing any smoke.”

Although scientists have long known that wildfires can affect air quality by emitting particles and gases into the air, there has been little research to quantify the impacts.

Fires worsen ozone levels by releasing nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, which can form ozone near the fire or far downwind as a result of chemical reactions in sunlight.

The researchers, using a combination of computer models and ground-level measurements, focused on intense California wildfires that broke out in September and October of 2007. They found that ozone was three times more likely to exceed safe levels when fire plumes blew into a region than when no plumes were present.

“Increasingly in the atmospheric sciences, the blending of model results and observations yield new insights into complex natural processes and societal impacts,” said Cliff Jacobs, program director in NSF’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences. “This study is an excellent example of this research paradigm.”

At the time of the wildfires, the public health standard for ozone set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was 0.08 parts per million over an eight-hour period. The EPA has since tightened the standard to 0.075 parts per million. Under the stricter standard, the number of violations would have nearly doubled.

While ozone in the stratosphere benefits life on Earth by blocking ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, ozone in the lower atmosphere can trigger a number of health problems. These range from coughing and throat irritation to more serious problems, such as aggravation of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. Ground-level ozone pollution also damages crops and other plants.

“Wildfires are expected to worsen in the future, especially as our climate grows warmer,” Pfister says. “But we are only now beginning to understand their potential impacts on people and ecosystems, not only nearby but also potentially far downwind.”

New generation fire shelters

According to the National Fire and Aviation Executive Board (NFAEB), Federal Agencies should be transitioned to the New Generation Fire Shelter by January 1, 2009. All agencies, cooperators and contracted resources are to be transitioned by January 1, 2010. More information is HERE.

California: fire on Camp Pendleton

There are two fires burning on the southwest side of this military base which is between San Diego and Los Angeles. The larger one started at 3:30 this afternoon. At the last report, it was about 100-150 acres and was one mile from the city limits of Oceanside.

Today it was 94 degrees in San Diego, breaking the record high which had lasted for 109 years.

California: Corporations donate funds for fire relief and to CalFire

The Chevron Corporation announced today that it has donated $500,000 to the State of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to help support the cost of battling the state’s severe wildfires this year.

Other corporations have donated funds recently for “fire relief” in California. Wells Fargo donated $500,000; half will go to the Red Cross and the other half to other relief organizations. The Bank of America is donating $1,000,000 through its corporate foundation.

Peshtigo fire: 137 years ago today

The origin of Fire Prevention week is usually attributed to the Great Chicago Fire on October 8 and 9, 1871, which killed 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, and destroyed more than 17,400 structures across 2,000 acres of Chicago.

But the same day the Chicago fire started, the Peshtigo fire, the most devastating wildfire in American history, burned across northeast Wisconsin, burning down 16 towns, killing between 1,200 and 2,400 people, and blackening 1.2 million acres. There are reports that it spotted 10 miles across Green Bay and only stopped when it reached Lake Michigan.

The fire began when railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a vegetation fire. Before long, the fast-moving flames were whipping through the area ‘like a tornado,’ some survivors said. It was the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin that suffered the worst damage. Within an hour, the entire town had been destroyed.

The fire is named after the town because about 800 of those who died were in Peshtigo. The 1870 census listed the population at 1,700. More than 350 bodies were buried in a mass grave, primarily because so many had died that few remained alive who could identify them.

Survivors said the firestorm generated winds that threw rail cars and houses into the air. Many residents ran toward the nearby Peshtigo river, but some never made it. A little girl did, and held on to the horns of a cow in the river for hours. One man thought he had led his wife to the river through the smoke and flames, only to discover the woman was not his wife. According to reports, he later went crazy. Some made it to the river but then drowned.

The Peshtigo Fire Company had a single horse-drawn steam pumper to protect houses and the small factories near the river, but it was ineffective in the fire storm that wiped out the village. There was no other organized fire protection between the City of Green Bay and Marinette.


Conditions were ripe in the area that Fall, owing to an unusually dry summer. Small prairie fires were common and either burned themselves out or were quickly quenched. Loggers tried to hold their slash burning to small areas. Some farmers needed to burn small piles of brush that had accumulated from clearing land for additonal crop-growing acreage. And a railroad was being constructed at that time, between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This necessarily left debris to the sides of the track.

A cold front moved across a broad expanse of northcentral America that day, which brought swirling winds that allowed small fires to combine into larger ones. Circumstances, such as this wind, the topography of the area, and the abundant fuel, all came together to create a perfect setting for a catastrophic event. As the temperature rose, so did the wind’s intensity. A firestorm, in essence “nature’s nuclear explosion,” burst into being.

The firestorm, whipped by what is today acknowledged to have been a low-grade tornado, was described as “a wall of flame, a mile high, five miles wide, traveling 90 to 100 miles an hour, hotter than a crematorium, turning sand into glass.” It destroyed 12 pioneer towns and about 1.5 million acres, or nearly 2,000 square miles, of prime timber, and killed an estimated 2,200 people.

Traveling in a northeasterly direction, the fire leapt the Peshtigo River (after the winds shifted to come out of the west) and burned a swath through the countryside before reaching the Bay of Green Bay, where it finally died out.

The U.S. military studied this perfect storm of conditions that devastated such a large area. Some of the lessons learned were used during World War II during fire-bombing campaigns of Japan and Germany.

Australian fire season building

As the fire season in the United States winds down (except for southern California and the southeast) it is beginning to heat up in Australia:

The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) says this week’s bushfires in Noosa National Park could be the start of a worse than normal fire season on the Sunshine Coast.

The fires were brought under control yesterday afternoon and most crews were sent home about 10:00pm AEST.

There have been no flare-ups overnight, but the fire service will conduct an aerial surveillance of the area today.

Incident controller Russell Thompson says unless there is a lot of rain soon, the coast could face a bad fire season.

“One thing you can always guarantee if you miss out on a fire season one year and it keeps going that way, eventually when it does come it’ll be a big fire season, because you’re going to have a huge amount of fuel on the ground from the forests which will make the bushfires a lot worse,” Mr Thompson said.

QFRS commissioner Lee Johnson says he is happy with the fire control program in Queensland’s national parks.

“We’ve worked closely on this fire with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, as we do across many parts of Queensland,” Mr Johnson said.

“There have been several thousand hazard mitigation burns right across Queensland in the lead-up to this fire season and we certainly help other agencies of government and private land-holders to do that.”


Meanwhile, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) expects a tough bushfire season in the Mackay region this year.

RFS area director Andrew Houley says hot weather and northerly winds in recent days have dried out vegetation even further and expects conditions will worsen as winds increase.

Mr Houley says the fire risk is markedly different for each part of the region.

“Up on the top of the highlands where they’ve had some frosts in winter and now they’re coming out and staying dry in some areas, there’s quite dry fuel matter,” he said.

“Other areas had quite good rain at the end of August, so it’s very patchy.”


Fire crews in the south-west region are also on full alert for what is shaping as a severe fire season.

QFRS assistant commissioner Tom Dawson says the region’s wildfire plans been activated, with strike teams assembling, control centres established and air observation crews up later this week.

He says along with the Lockyer Valley, the Crows Nest region north of Toowoomba and the grasslands of the Arcadia Valley west of Roma, the granite belt is looming as an area of risk.

“They’ve had some rain and they’ve got some increased growth at the lower end of those heavily forested areas,” Mr Dawson said.

“It’s starting to dry out and they haven’t had decent fires through there for four or five years.

“Its been spasmodic activity, so we’re really watching those fuel loads and the wind direction.”