Wildfire news, August 8, 2008

More than 150 fire engines escorted the casket of Chief Dan Packer to his memorial service yesterday in Federal Way, Washington. The Chief of the East Pierce County Fire and Rescue Department was killed July 26 on a fire in northern California. A slide show of photos from the service is HERE. A similar service was held Monday for Andy Palmer who was struck by a falling tree July 25 on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California.

Judge Van Sickle has changed the time and date of Ellreese Daniels sentencing from Monday, the 18th, to Wednesday August 20 at 10 a.m. in Spokane. Daniels plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of making false statements to investigators for actions on the Thirtymile fire.

The Columbia River Road fire, a new fire in Washington state on the Colville Indian Reservation near Nespelem, has burned 5,000 acres and is threatening 40 structures. More lightning and a red flag warning are predicted for Friday in eastern Washington, with possible showers on Saturday.

Lightning yesterday in northeastern Oregon started approximately 50 fires. Most of them were put out at less than an acre. A few of them burned 35-100 acres before they were contained. More lightning is expected on Friday.

A spokesman for the Lolo National Forest in Montana told the Missoulian that they received only about 50 lightning strikes in the Missoula area, less than expected:

“And most of them were sheet lightning, which don’t reach the ground.” 

The spokesman should brush up on his lightning facts. “Sheet” or “heat” lightning is simply lightning at a distance from the person viewing it, and it is behind clouds which lights up the clouds, some say like a sheet. But lightning at a distance behind clouds can still strike the ground and start fires.

And speaking of lightning, HERE is a link to an impressive slow-motion video of a lightning strike.

CalFire will not press charges against the 28-year old target shooter who started the Telegraph fire near Chico, California. The fire burned 34,091 acres and destroyed 30 primary structures. It was contained on August 6 and cost over $37 million to suppress.

And, we request that the fire blogger who has been copying sections of our posts and pasting them verbatim into his blog at least give us a credit when doing so.

Update on fires in the Yellowstone & Cody areas

Gunbarrel fire

The fire, 40 miles west of Cody, WY and about 6 miles east of Yellowstone, was relatively quiet on Wednesday, thanks to lower temperatures and higher humidities. A burnout planned for Wednesday evening was canceled due to the reduced rate of spread of the fire. Firefighters used the opportunity to construct firelines around structures and install sprinkler systems. Similar weather conditions are expected for today. The most current map available from the incident management team is HERE, but InciWeb has been intermittent today.

The fire is 34,770 acres and has 343 personnel assigned.

LeHardy fire

There is no new information available about this fire in Yellowstone NP north of Yellowstone Lake. The fire has burned 8,950 acres according to the last information from the park. We will update this post later today if needed.

But here is a cool picture from the fire of a helicopter dropping on what looks like a spot fire. Click on it to see a larger version.

Photo Steve Cory, Casper Star Tribune

Wildfire news, August 7, 2008

Fatal helicopter crash

UPDATE @ 10:15 a.m., August 7

The LA Times has information from one of the survivors.

One of the survivors, Richard Schroeder, 42, said in a phone interview from his hospital room in Redding that it seemed that the helicopter’s rotor hit a tree as it was taking off. 

A father of five from Medford, Ore., Schroeder said someone behind him screamed for everyone to put their heads under their legs. “He was looking out the window and saw something,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder’s stomach dropped as the helicopter pitched forward and plummeted. He blacked out on impact and came to with a body on him, he said. He shoved the body off and saw that the tail of the aircraft was on fire. His mouth was bleeding heavily and he could barely breathe. He said he thought, “I’m not dying here,” and unbuckled himself and kicked out a partially broken window. He wiggled his way outside. Men above screamed at him to scramble up the slope.

The helicopter exploded as he watched from above. “I was totally shocked,” he said. “I lost all my friends.”

Schroeder sustained serious injuries to his neck, shoulder and back. He did not suffer any burns, he said.

Another crew on the ground waiting to be shuttled out alerted base camp about the crash, and rescue crews were immediately dispatched to the scene, authorities said.

[…]

Schroeder said the crew was being transported back for rest because clouds were rolling in and they expected heavy lightning strikes. He said they were the third group to go out from that spot on Tuesday.

9:13 a.m.

Not much additional information is available about the crash of the S-61 helicopter with 13 on board. HERE is a link to a video report from KSEE News in Fresno. It has file photos of the three injured firefighters from Grayback Forestry.

Here is an excerpt of a Sacramento Bee story in which spokesman Bob Madden of Carson Helicopters in Grants Pass and Tom Karroll of the U.S. Forest Service describe the accident.

The helicopter crashed near the north edge of the large wildland fire. The craft was taking 10 firefighters and the Forest Service official out of the fire zone.

Both pilots had at least 10,000 hours of experience, he said.

On Tuesday, the helicopter had shuttled crews in and out of the fire zone and landed several times at Helicopter Spot 44, where the crash occurred, said Forest Service spokesman Tom Karroll.

“It’s at 1,800 feet (elevation) in very steep country, the Salmon Trinity Alps primitive area,” he said. “As it loaded up and the people had put on their seat belts, it didn’t have a successful liftoff.”

The helicopter caught fire after hitting the ground, Madden said. “Two other company choppers responded to the mayday (emergency call) and dropped water on the ground around the burning aircraft.”

Memorial service for Dan Packer

The service for Chief Packer who died on the Panther fire will be today in Federal Way, Washington. The funeral procession will begin at 11:30 a.m. and is expected to involve 200 fire trucks and police cars.

More lightning in northern California

More than 1,000 lightning strikes hit the area on Tuesday night, starting at least 26 new fires in Shasta County.

Secretary of Homeland Security tours NIFC

From the Idaho Statesman:

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff hails from New Jersey and seemed a little unfamiliar with Idaho on his first visit to the state Wednesday while touring the National Interagency Fire Center. 

“Thanks to Gov. Otter for his hospitality,” he said, looking at Lt. Gov. Jim Risch during a press conference.

Chertoff, along with Interior Secretary and former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, were in Boise to learn about the NIFC, which coordinates national firefighting efforts. While Idaho has had almost no fire activity this year, California has seen a slew of wildfires tear through that state, destroying homes and prompting mass evacuations.

The presidential cabinet members also toured the Wildland Firefighters Monument, while secret service agents and bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the grounds.

Smoke in California

The heavy smoke created by the fires in northern California has prompted Governor Schwarzenner to declare a state of emergency in 12 counties.

Life at a lookout tower

The Helena Independent Record has an interesting story about life at an isolated lookout tower accessible only by hiking trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. When you go to the site, in addition to the article, it opens a video filmed at the tower. Here is an excerpt from the well-written article.

“When I first started up here, the drifts would last until the 15th or 20th of July,” she said, pointing to Sugarloaf Mountain, a dinosaur-looking peak cleaving the near horizon. “Last year, there was no snow at all up here by the Fourth of July. But this year, when I opened the lookout on July 3, it was the most snow I’d ever seen – more snow than when I’d come up here in June.”

The snow was so deep that when Chapman opened the lookout in early July, she had to dig a path for the pack train to get supplies to the summit. She dug four feet down and eight feet wide to make room for horses and mules.

Early this morning the mules returned, led by Tim Love with Mills Wilderness Adventures. We passed his pack train 2,000 feet up the trail as it headed down the mountain. The team was returning from a supply run, stocking Chapman’s lookout with enough food, water and wood to last 14 days.

Chapman stacked the wood below the porch. She placed the yams, avocados and bananas on the tables. The canned goods she stacked in the cabinet and the baking supplies – the shortening, flour, corn meal and salt – she placed on the shelf.

Information about the Carson S-61 helicopters

One of Carson Helicopters S-61s was involved in the fatal crash on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The company has 12 firefighting helicopters, all of which were working on fires in Oregon and California, and 7 other helicopters. Here is some information gathered from the Carson Helicopters web site about the Sikorsky S-61.

Carson’s S-61 FIRE KING is the “perfect” firefighting machine capable of rapidly and accurately delivering a thousand gallons of water per drop. That, coupled with the ability to transport personnel and cargo internally at great speeds and range directly to the fire line, makes the FIRE KING the most versatile fire suppression tool available to Firefighting Agencies today.

Aircraft Performance

* 22,000 lb Max Gross Weight
* 11,000 lb External Load
* 14,000 ft Service Ceiling – 12,000 ft Take Off & Landing
* 131 Knot Cruise Speed
* 450 Nautical Mile Range
* 3.5 Hour Endurance with 30 Minute Reserve

Equipment

* Composite Main Rotor Blades
* 15 Passenger Interior
* Fire King 1,000 Gallon Fixed Belly Tank
* Goodrich Hoist (600 lb)
* Stokes Litter
* Rescue Basket
* Rescue Strop
* Rappel Anchor
* Rope Assisted Deployment Anchor (R.A.D.)
* 11,000 lb Cargo Hook
* 63″ Sliding Cargo Door
* 900 Gallon Variable Flow Water Bucket
* 150′, 100′ & 50′ Synthetic Long Line

Electronics

* Garmin 530 Moving Map
* Automated Flight Following
* Traffic Collision Avoidance Detection (TCAD)
* Storm Scope
* Radar altimeter
* Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)
* 2 – VHF Radios
* 2 – P25 Compliant Radios
* External Public Address System with Siren
* Cabin ICS with transmit Capability
* Remote GPS Receiver Antenna

And:

Carson Helicopters is a leader in heavy helicopter wildland fire suppression. Since 1991 Carson has flown thousands of incident free hours with a 100% availability and 100% on time arrival.

Here is a 37-second video of a Carson S-61 doing a demonstration water drop in Western Australia.

UPDATE @ 10:26 August 7

From the LA Times:

In April, the FAA issued an “airworthiness directive” regarding Sikorsky S-model helicopters after one developed fatigue failures in the main rotor shaft. Carson Helicopters was among the companies alerted to the problem.

The FAA also outlined a list of actions to “prevent structural failure, loss of power to the main rotor, and subsequent loss of control of the helicopter.” Carson filed comments in May, saying it had been six months since the company had ordered some of the relevant parts from Sikorsky and they were expected to arrive this month.

Update on helicopter crash; 9 presumed dead and 4 injured

Further information released by the U.S. Forest Service and the FAA reveals that in addition to the 4 injured reported earlier, 9 additional firefighters that were on the helicopter are missing and presumed dead. This is a very sad day and our thoughts are with the families and coworkers of those involved.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

(08-06) 16:23 PDT REDDING – — In what might be one of the deadliest firefighting incidents in U.S. history, nine firefighters are presumed dead and four were seriously injured after their helicopter went down Tuesday night after battling a blaze in remote Trinity County, northwest of Redding, authorities said today.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration both dispatched teams to the crash site in a remote, wooded area near Junction City, about 215 miles northwest of Sacramento.

The U.S. Forest Service said that one individual was confirmed dead and eight are unaccounted for. It was unclear whether those unaccounted for had simply not yet been identified. The Federal Aviation Administration indicated there were 13 people on board the aircraft and told a fire service that there were nine fatalities.

Cynthia Sage, with the U.S. Forest Service, said the accident happened about 7:45 p.m. as the helicopter was ferrying firefighters back to a staging area after they had been working on the Trinity fire.

She said medical evacuation personnel responded to the scene, but they could not get the people with injuries out until around 9:30 p.m. because the crash was in a very remote location.

“We would like to ask the public to keep their thoughts and prayers for the fire personnel involved and the families,” Sage said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the Sikorsky S-61 chopper was destroyed by fire after crashing “under unknown circumstances” in a remote mountain location. The nine were presumably killed in the fire that destroyed the helicopter, Gregor said.

The aircraft had a crew of two, both employees of Carson Helicopters of Grants Pass, Ore., and was carrying 11 firefighters. The pilot is among the injured and the co-pilot is listed as missing and presumed dead.

The four injured firefighters were transported to Mercy Medical Center in Redding, Air National Guard spokeswoman Capt. Alyson M. Teeter said.

Mercy Medical Center spokesman Michael Burke said three of the firefighters have been transferred to UC-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, two in critical condition and one in serious condition. One of the firefighters remains at Mercy in serious condition, Burke said.

The Buckhorn Fire the crew had been fighting is 25 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It’s burned 17,755 acres. It’s one of several fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest caused by lightning strikes. All told fires that have been raging since June 21 have consumed more than 86,000 acres of grass, brush and trees.

The firefighters worked for a private contracting company, Greyback Forestry, headquartered in Merlin, Ore. No one from Greyback was available for comment. Greyback lost four firefighters in 2002 when the van they were in overturned on its way to fight a fire in Colorado.

Tuesday’s crash was the worst involving firefighting aircraft in history, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. In 1972, seven firefighters perished in a crash in the Los Padres National Forest.

“I’ve flown a lot of helicopters and they’ve all been really safe,” said Ken Palmrose, spokesman for the fire center. “Fatalities involving aircraft are rare.”

The deadliest firefighting incident was the attack on the World Trade Centers on Sept. 11, when 340 firefighters lost their lives. According to the National Fire Protection Association, other deadly accidents include a 1994 incident in which 14 firefighters died while battling a wildfire in Glenwood Springs, Colo. In 1984, 10 firefighters were killed in an oil refinery fire in Romeoville, Ill.

Between 1990 and 2006, California had the highest number of wildland firefighter deaths in the nation – 64, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Colorado was second at 25, followed by Texas with 19. Prior to Wednesday’s crash, the next deadliest incident in California was the October 2006 Esperanza Fire that killed five federal firefighters.

Bob Madden, spokesman for the Carson Helicopters, the company that owns the downed aircraft, said the pilot and co-pilot work for Carson Helicopters, he said, and they were transporting 11 firefighters at the time of the crash.

Madden said preliminary indications suggested that neither weather nor visibility should have played a role in the crash.

He said the company has 12 helicopters working in firefighting capacities around the country. The company uses a military-style Sikorsky S61 heavy helicopter, which is outfitted to carry water or fire-retardant chemicals to drop on a fire, and also to act as transportation for people and supplies. But the aircraft can only perform one of those missions at a time, Madden said. The helicopter can carry up to 15 passengers.

A Sikorsky S-61A owned and operated by Carson Helicopters crashed and burst into flames during a logging operation in Tennessee in March 2003, killing the 56-year-old pilot and seriously injuring the co-pilot, NTSB records show. Investigators blamed the crash on the malfunction of a component that was overdue for repair, and on the pilot flying too low to avert the crisis.

Madden said this was the first time one of the company’s helicopters have crashed while working a wildland fire.

Additional information from MSNBC:

Firefighters who were waiting to be picked up helped rescue the injured after the helicopter crashed around 7:45 p.m. and caught fire, Rabuck said. About three dozen firefighters had to spend the night on the mountain because it became too dark for other helicopters to land, she said.

One report said the crash happened about 100 feet from a helispot.

 

From the Redding Searchlight:

The three contract firefighters injured in Tuesday night’s helicopter crash in Trinity County have been identified by their company.

 

Eight firefighters and one helicopter crew member are missing and believed dead, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.

The injured, all Grayback Forestry Inc. employees, are Jonathan Frohreich, 18; Rick Schoeder, 42; and Michael Brown, 20, company spokeswoman Leslie Habetier said this afternoon. They are believed to be from Medford, Ore. Grayback is located in Merlin, Ore.

Frohreich is in critical condition at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Brown is in serious condition at Davis, and Schoeder is in serious condition at Mercy Medical Center in Redding.

The helicopter pilot who was injured and taken to UC Davis has not been identified.

KGO-TV in San Francisco reports that the pilot’s name is William Coultas, information that previously was not available. He is in critical condition in the burn unit at the U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Three of the four firefighters that survived a helicopter crash in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, were taken to the U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

 

One firefighter’s condition has been upgraded from serious to fare condition. Three of the four survivors are at the U.C. Davis Medical Center.

William Coultas, the pilot of the helicopter, is in critical condition in the burn unit. Jonathan Frohreich, a contract firefighter is also in critical condition. Michael Brown is also a contract firefighter, was in critical condition, but has now been upgraded to fair condition.

HERE is a link to a video report about the incident by NBC news.

 

HERE is a link to news releases by the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. If you click on the “Audio Link” at the site it will download and play an .mp3 recording of the Forest Supervisor’s news conference about the incident.