Former Carson employees responsible for fatal Iron 44 Fire helicopter crash were motivated by greed, prosecutors say

Carson helicopter
Nine firefighters and pilots were killed in the 2008 crash of a Carson Helicopters S-61N in northern California. Two former employees of the company have pleaded guilty to charges related to the crash of the overloaded helicopters that impacted the ground while attempting to take off from a remote helispot.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Mail Tribune that provides details about the sentencing of the two former Carson employees.

The vice president of a defunct Grants Pass helicopter company was motivated by “pure greed” to lie about the carrying capacities of the firms’ helicopters, including an overloaded one that crashed at a Northern California fire in 2008, killing nine people, prosecutors say.

A government sentencing memorandum says Steven Metheny not only falsified documents for Carson Helicopters to gain Forest Service contracts worth up to $51.7 million, he also supplied a similarly falsified helicopter to the Forest Service as a replacement for the one that crashed Aug. 5, 2008, on the Iron 44 fire.

Seven of the nine killed were Southern Oregon firefighters in what was the deadliest crash of its kind in U.S. wildfire-fighting history. The memorandum, which details how Metheny tried to scuttle the investigation into the crash and stole from his own company, sets out the government’s argument for Metheny to be sentenced to more than 15 1/2 years in prison for his guilty plea in the case.

“His fraudulent conduct was the result of pure greed that eventually placed the lives of numerous pilots and firefighters in extreme danger,” according to the memorandum written by Assistant U.S. Attorney Byron Chatfield…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Nina.


Montana legislature votes 96 to 3 to honor smokejumpers

On April 13, 2015 Montana’s House of Representatives voted on House Resolution #2that stated in part:

…WHEREAS, in July 2015 on the University of Montana campus, the National Smokejumper Association will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first parachute jump to a forest fire, which occurred in July 1940.


That the House of Representatives of the State of Montana recognizes 75 years of excellence and dedicated service of smokejumpers in Montana and across the nation.

As far as we can tell, the Resolution did not involve spending any taxpayer money. It simply recognizes 75 years of service by smokejumpers.

The vote was:

  • 96 in favor of the resolution, and
  • 3 against it.

The Representatives, elected by Montana citizens, who voted not to honor smokejumpers were:

  1. Tom Burnett (Bozeman)
  2. Rob Cook (Conrad)
  3. Daniel Zolnikov (Billings)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.


Researchers fly into convection columns to study wildfire smoke

Below are excerpts from an article at


“It’s a hot day in central Washington as a twin turboprop plane cruises southward. Through the cabin window, the jagged peaks of the Cascades rise in the west; to the east, a lush carpet of green vineyards and yellow wheat fields. But an hour into this flight, the blue skies give way to a white haze that rapidly turns to an alarming burnt orange.

The cabin begins to reek of smoke. The plane’s vibrations increase until the entire vessel is rocking and rolling. For a few seconds, the plane is literally free falling. All the while, outside the window, the sky grows darker and darker.

It’s another day at work for Arthur Sedlacek, an atmospheric chemist who is trying to solve one of the biggest mysteries in global climate change: the role that wildfires play when they spew millions of tons of soot skyward each year.

For five months in 2013, Sedlacek was part of a thrill-seeking team that flew into wildfire plumes in the Pacific Northwest and then Tennessee to measure exactly what’s in the soot. “Biomass burns are just this incredibly rich soup of raw material,” said Sedlacek, who is based at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.


It’s a tricky scientific problem because fires exert both warming and cooling effects on the climate.

Black smoke billowing up from a fire’s center has a warming effect because dark aerosols absorb light, keeping that energy trapped in our atmosphere. But as winds push aerosols away from the fire, the particles gather a reflective coating of organic matter, which has a cooling effect. White aerosols scatter light, sending that energy back into space.


So the smoke from wildfires can impact the climate directly, by reflecting and absorbing sunlight, and also indirectly, by influencing the formation of clouds. But how will these effects change as the frequency of wildfires increases in a warmer, drier world?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Lewis said.

To try to answer that question as precisely as possible, Sedlacek, Lewis and their colleagues sampled 17 wildfires, seven urban plumes, and more than three dozen agricultural burns during 120 hours of flight time in 2013. Their research project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.


Sedlacek recalls one mid-summer flight that got especially hairy. “I remember about this time, hanging on, and thanking God I listened to the pilot when he said ‘buckle up’ because one of my colleagues had not and he went flying.” But that wasn’t the worst of it. In the thick of the plume the flight got even bumpier. Sedlacek overheard his pilot pleading with his engine, saying “stay with me baby, stay with me.”

As soon as the aircraft safely landed, Sedlacek pulled the pilot aside to ask why he was so worried about the engine. The pilot explained that aircraft engines need oxygen to burn fuel, and there’s very little oxygen in a smoke plume.”


Red Flag Warnings, April 14, 2015

Red Flag Warnings April 14, 2015

Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches have been issued for areas in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Nebraska.

The map was current as of 6:45 a.m. MDT on Tuesday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site or this NWS site.


Cold Brook prescribed fire escapes in South Dakota (updated with post-fire photos)

(UPDATED at 4 p.m. April 19, 2015)

Cold Brook Fire

Highway 385, which can be seen in the distance, was supposed to be the boundary of the prescribed fire. Only the land on the far side of the highway was planned to burn.

After being out of town for a while, today we saw the Cold Brook escaped prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota for the first time. Our initial impression was that a very small percentage of the Ponderosa Pine trees lost their canopies to the fire; the mortality was very low. This is largely due to a series of prescribed fires that were conducted in the area about 13 to 16 years ago. Those burns eliminated some trees and “raised the canopy” on many; that is, some of the lower limbs were burned off reducing the ladder fuels that could later carry a fire into the crowns.

Approximately 5,420 acres burned outside the prescribed fire unit, all within the National Park.

The fire would have burned private land outside the park if the Casey Ranch south of the park had not been added a few years ago. The fire burned quite a few acres east of Highway 385 and south of the former park boundary.

In that area, a residence that remains on private land had the fire burn right up to their back yard, as you can see in the photo below.

Cold Brook Fire

The fire burned up to the back yard of a private residence near Highway 385. A blackened area can be seen on the left side of the photo.

When the fire escaped, it ran to the east for about four to five miles.

Cold Brook Fire

Looking east from the planned burn area to Highway 385 which did not serve as an adequate fire line under the conditions that day.

All of these photos in today’s update were taken by Bill Gabbert. Click on them to see larger versions.

Cold Brook Fire

Cold Brook Fire

The north end of the fire, east of Highway 385.

Cold Brook Fire


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Wind Cave NP conducts 1,000 acre prescribed fire

prescribed fire Wind Cave NP

Cold Brook #2 prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park, April 13, 2015. Photo provided by Great Plains Fire Info.

(UPDATE at 9:40 p.m. MDT, April 13, 2015: the prescribed fire escaped and burned an additional 1,000 acres.)


(Originally published at 2:21 p.m. MDT, April 13, 2014)

On Monday April 13 employees at Wind Cave National Park began igniting another 1,000 acres of the Cold Brook prescribed fire project in the southwest corner of the park about 5 miles north of Hot Springs, South Dakota. It was started in October, but could not be finished at that time because of weather and vegetation conditions.

prescribed fire Wind Cave NP

Map showing heat detected by a satellite which was generated by the Cold Brook #2 prescribed fire in Wind Cave National Park.