New Heli-Claw transports mulch

The Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) has invented a mechanical “claw” that when attached to the end of a 100′ long line under a helicopter can transport 2,000 pounds of straw. Helicopters often haul straw in cargo nets to remote locations when doing rehab work on burned areas. It can be somewhat labor intensive to load the bales into the nets, disconnect an empty net and reconnect a full one. The “heliclaw” can be opened and closed by the pilot, making it possible to hover over a pile of loose straw, close the claw, fly to the area to be reahabed, then open the claw and unload the straw where it is needed.

The MTDC wrote all this up in a report, of course. You will need this to enter the site: Username: t-d, Password: t-d. The user name and password is wildely available on the Internet; don’t ask me why they require it.

They also produced a video of the heli-claw in action. The first 5-6 minutes is quite boring, just showing a helicopter flying in circles with the heli-claw attached. Towards the end they show it picking up and transporting straw. The same username and password applies.

Thanks, Dick, for the tip.

Same fire, different headlines

I did a Google search for news about wildand fires, and found these two results, one right after the other, about the same fire near Quincy, Washington:

Brush fire subsides in central Washington
Seattle Times, United States – 3 hours ago
Five state teams, each with 15 firefighters and five pieces of equipment, were being deployed this morning and officials hoped the fire would be contained

Brush fire spreads in central Washington, WA – 3 hours ago
State firefighters were mobilized late Tuesday to help about 100 area firefighters after the flames had burned across 5000 acres, local officials said.

Somebody once said:

Don’t believe anything you read, and only half of what you see.

Wildfire news, July 23, 2008

Firefighters dodge cluster bombs

A fire near Aley, Lebanon, is presenting firefighters with the usual hazards of a wildland fire, and one not so usual. Bombs. They are fighting a fire in what was the front lines of the 1975-1990 civil war. Left behind from that war are cluster bombs and landmines. An official said:

At least eight landmines exploded and two of them were large bombs causing huge explosions. It is a very large, steep, wooded area that is hard to get around and we can’t send our men through due to the bombs. 

More information is here.

Homes burned like dominos falling

Researchers determined that of the 199 homes destroyed in last October’s Grass Valley fire near Lake Arrowhead, California, only 6 of them were directly hit by the fire. The other 193 homes ignited and burned due to surface fire contacting the home, firebrands accumulating on the home, or an adjacent burning structure. The report, by Jack Coen and Richard Stratton, concludes:

In general, the home destruction resulted from residential fire characteristics. The ignition vulnerable homes burning in close proximity to one another continued the fire spread through the residential area without the wildfire as a factor. This implies that similar fire destruction might occur without a wildfire. A house fire at an upwind location at the same time and under the same conditions as the wildfire could have resulted in significant fire spread within the community. 


Grass Valley fire, Lake Arrowhead, California

The complete report can be found HERE. Links to other reports by Jack Cohen on similar subjects are HERE.

Basin fire, east of Big Sur, California

The fire is 139,167 acres and is 72% contained. From this morning’s report:

Burnout operations were conducted yesterday along Blue Rock Ridge to Los Padres Reservoir and progress was made in the burnout along Chew’s Ridge north of the Mira Observatory. The smoke from these operations carried over Carmel Valley Village. 

Today burnout will continue from Miller Canyon to the Los Padres Dam and smoke will be visible.

Burnout operations are continuing around Tanbark and Arroyo Seco to widen protection zones.

Senator Conrad Burns and the Hot Shots

Two years ago today, on July 23, 2006, the Augusta Hot Shots from Virginia were at the Billings, Montana airport waiting for a flight home after working on the Bundy Railroad fire near Worden. The fire had been contained on July 19 and was being demobilized.

Montana Senator Conrad Burns approached them and told them that they had done “a poor job” of fighting the 92,000 acre fire.

Burns went on to say to the Hot Shots:

“See that guy over there? He hasn’t done a God-damned thing. They sit around. I saw it up on the Wedge fire and in northwestern Montana some years ago. It’s wasteful. You probably paid that guy $10,000 to sit around. It’s gotta change.”

The firefighters had a lot more class than the Senator. Their response to him was:

“Have nice day.”

Folks got mad. Everyone in Montana and in most of the West is a firefighter, was a firefighter, is related to a firefighter, or knows a firefighter. Almost all, except for the good Senator Burns, respect the work that firefighters do.

Burns was up for re-election, running against Democrat Jon Tester. Soon, 1,000 “Wildland Firefighters for Tester” bumper stickers appeared. Tester won by about 2000 votes, and the leading political columnist for the Lee Newspaper chain credited the “firefighter flap.” The Democrats took control of the U.S. Senate by a margin of one.

On this 2nd anniversary, as firefighters we need to remember that even though our numbers are small, our impact can be impressive.

Wildfire news, July 22, 2008

Total suppression or defensible space?

An article in the Red Orbit discusses the effectiveness of suppressing every wildland fire vs. preparing homes to withstand a frontal assault from a fire.

More provocatively, the research suggests that fighting fires on public lands to protect homes is ineffective and, in the long run, counterproductive.

It is also far more expensive.

This is the paradox of wildland fire management in America: Most scientists and fire managers agree that fire is a healthy and needed part of the forest, and that fighting these blazes serves only to build up fuels and boost the size and frequency of catastrophic fires.

But federal agencies keep attacking almost every wildfire, many deep in the woods, and the rising costs of suppression divert money from protecting homes and communities _ which can be saved with the right, often inexpensive, measures.

The result: Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on what most experts agree is the wrong approach. The lives of firefighters are put in danger on fires that don’t need to be fought. And homes are left vulnerable, their fate often decided by wind direction and the availability of federal firefighters to protect private property.

Railroad to pay $102 million for fire

The Union Pacific Railroad Company has agreed to pay $102 million for starting a fire north of Sacramento in 2000 that burned 52,000 acres of the Lassen and Plumas national forests. The government was seeking damages of $190 million, but a settlement of $102 million still sets a new record for the largest damage recovery for a wildfire by the U.S. Forest Service.

Sparks from welders repairing tracks caused the Storrie Fire on August 17, 2000, in Plumas County. The suppression costs were estimated at $22 million. A judge said the government could seek more than $13 million for “damage to wildlife habitat and public enjoyment of the forest,” as much as $33 million to plant new trees, and $122 million in lost timber. More information is HERE.