747 SuperTanker receives federal approval

Above: The 747 Supertanker conducts a test drop at Colorado Springs May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.)

The 747 SuperTanker has received interim approval from the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) according to Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service. Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker, the operator of the air tanker, said he first heard from the IAB on January 6 that the approval had been granted.

Interim approval is the last step before full approval. It means the company can compete for and receive contracts to serve as an air tanker for federal agencies in the United States. If it receives a contract, the performance and effectiveness of the aircraft will be evaluated while under this status. Then if satisfactory, it can be elevated to full approval. The interim approval is valid through June 15, 2017, Mrs. Jones said.

When the Neptune Aviation BAe-146s were first converted to air tankers they were given “interim” status while bugs in the new system were found and eventually mitigated. For example, the company added additional drop doors farther forward on the fuselage in order to improve the dispersal of retardant while making a downhill drop.

However the retardant delivery system on this 747 has been used on previous 747s and was fully certified by the IAB years ago. Over the last year it has been installed in a 747-400 which has more powerful engines than the 747-100 and 747-200 used by Evergreen, the company that first built a 747 air tanker. Global Supertanker bought the hardware and intellectual property for the retardant system when Evergreen declared bankruptcy.

The 747 can hold 19,200 gallons, much more than any other air tanker. For comparison, the DC-10 very large air tanker carries 11,600 gallons, while the BAe-146, RJ85, and C-130 hold up to 3,000 to 3,500 gallons. The P2V Korean War vintage aircraft that has been the workhorse air tanker for decades usually carries less than 2,000 gallons. The S-2T used by CAL FIRE holds up to 1,200 gallons.

Last summer the 747 Supertanker received a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA and the agency’s Federal Aviation Regulations Part 137 certificate.

T-944 mountain flying
Global Supertanker.

In November it made a non-stop flight to Israel and after arriving dropped on two wildfires at the request of the country’s government.

“IAB approval is an essential requirement in airtanker contracts for some wildfire agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service (USFS),” Mr. Wheeler said. “With this approval, we look forward to bidding on – and winning – upcoming domestic and international contracts. We are grateful and excited to join the team of airtankers currently serving a critical mission for the United States and globally, and look forward to continuing to work with the USFS, CAL FIRE, and the IAB during the final approval process.”

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Wildfires in Israel force tens of thousands to evacuate

Firefighters have been battling a rash of fires since November 21.

Since Monday November 21 many wildfires have broken out in Israel, forcing 60,000 residents to flee from the coastal city of Haifa as the fire spread into the center of the metropolis.

Normally this time of the year the country would be entering their rainy season but the fires are occurring during a two-month drought. The situation has been worsened this week by strong dry winds making the fires more resistant to control.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, told reporters that almost half the fires were the result of arson. The term “pyro-terrorism” has been thrown around loosely in various articles, but that has not been confirmed by an authoritative source.

The fires slowed on Friday enabling some evacuees to return to their homes.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israeli Air Force is using 10 drones to detect fires and spot suspected arsonists.

The 747 Supertanker has been contracted by the Israeli government and after a 12.5-hour non-stop flight landed in Tel Aviv at about 10:25 a.m. MST on Friday.

Global Supertanker Services sent two complete flight crews with the air tanker, President and CEO Jim Wheeler said. Each crew consists of two pilots and a drop system operator. In addition there were four maintenance and ground personnel, one supervisor, and Bob Soelberg, Program Manager for Global Supertanker, who will liaise with the Israeli government.

747 Supertanker
The 747 Supertanker at its home base in Colorado Springs, May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The 747 can drop retardant, foam, gel, or other fire suppressants.

This is not the first time a Supertanker has mobilized to Israel. In December 2010 the first generation of the aircraft dropped on the Mt. Carmel Fire in which 44 prison guards in a bus were killed after being trapped by the fire. The supertanker was one of 30 firefighting aircraft that were dispatched at that time from countries all over the world, including six Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tankers from the U.S. military. The assistance from the MAFFS was approved and arranged late in the incident. Some never took off and others were turned around at a refueling stop in the Azores.

Since the deadly Mt. Carmel fire Israel has substantially beefed up their fire aviation resources and now have 14 Single Engine Air Tankers under contract supplied by Elbit Systems and Chim Nir Flight Services. The SEATs have their place in the firefighter’s tool box, but the 747 carries far more than all of their SEATs combined.

In June Israel loaned three of their SEATs to Cyprus to help suppress large fires near Paphos and Evrychou. Now they are on the receiving end as firefighting aircraft are arriving from the U.S., Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey. In addition, Russia sent two water scooping Be-200 air tankers. One can be seen scooping in the video at the top of the page.

In spite of a report in a major east coast newspaper, the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center has not received any orders for firefighting resources. But, according to BLM spokesperson Randall Eardley, there have been some discussions about crew availability. Jessica Gardetto of the BLM said the Pentagon has inquired about the process for sending assistance internationally.

The weather forecast for Tel Aviv calls for warm, dry, and sunny weather through the weekend with 6 to 8 mph winds out of the northeast and relative humidities in the teens. For the 7 days after that the humidity will 33 to 57 percent with stronger winds on Wednesday through Friday.

Likely cause of Beulah Hill Fire in Colorado was an excavator

Above: Map of the Beulah Hill Fire at 12:20 p.m. MDT October 5, 2016. Data from  Colorado’s MultiMission Aircraft.

(UPDATED at 11:43 a.m. MDT October 6, 2016)

Data from Colorado’s MultiMission aircraft has produced the map above showing the perimeter of the Beulah Hill Fire southwest of Pueblo, Colorado. The incident management team added the completed vs. open fireline, showing that more half of the fire’s edge is contained. The latest size estimate is 5,232 acres.

Fire officials today announced that the preliminary cause of the Beulah Hill Fire was a Colorado Department of Transportation excavator performing routine drainage maintenance work. It was moving rocks with the bucket and that may have created sparks, or it could have been hot particles from the exhaust. Investigators eliminated all other possible causes.

Officials also announced at a 10:30 a.m. press conference today that the state will be awarding each homeowner whose house burned a $5,000 grant to assist with immediate expenses.

Evacuation orders have been lifted in some areas.

The MODIS satellite orbiting 438 miles overhead has not detected any large heat sources on the fire since it found one at 2:46 a.m. on October 5. But there are no doubt many small hot areas on the fire.

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(UPDATED at 10:47 a.m. MDT October 5, 2016)

As a result of better mapping, it has been determined that the Beulah Hill Fire has burned 4,848 acres 17 miles southwest of Pueblo, Colorado.

The number of structures burned has been revised to 8 homes and 16 outbuildings. Evacuations are still in effect for the Beulah area and approximately 200 homes still do not have electricity.

The Information Officer for the Type 2 incident management team that assumed command at 6 a.m. Wednesday announced Wednesday morning that firefighters have not achieved any containment (scroll down at the link) on the fire, saying it is at zero percent. The fire started early in the afternoon on Monday, October 1. In spite of the stated lack of containment the approximate number of personnel on the fire has decreased from 400 on Tuesday, to 340 on Wednesday (300 firefighters plus 30 to 40 overhead) over the last 24 hours according to the numbers provided over the last two days. Some incident management teams conflate the terms “contain” and “control”.

Other resources on the fire include 4 hand crews, 30 engines, 3 helicopters, 2 heavy air tankers, and 2 single engine air tankers.

Continue reading “Likely cause of Beulah Hill Fire in Colorado was an excavator”

Alaska Supreme Court rules on lawsuit over burnout

Rex Creek Fire
The Rex Creek Fire on August 4, 2009, part of the Railbelt Complex in Alaska. Photo by ADF.

In 2009 firefighters in Alaska conducted a burnout operation on the Railbelt Complex of fires 45 mile southwest of Fairbanks. Part of the fire was on private land and four of the landowners filed a lawsuit asking for $100,000 each charging that the burnout was an illegal “taking” of their property. They also charged “negligence and intentional misconduct”, saying the state failed to adequately mop up after rains knocked down the fires, which later re-ignited.

The Alaska Supreme Court, reviewing a previous decision by a Superior Court, ruled that the landowners may be eligible for compensation.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Newsminer:

A Superior Court judge dismissed the eminent domain claim in December 2010, finding the state’s actions “did not constitute a taking because they were a valid exercise of its police powers,” and dismissed the negligence and intentional misconduct claims on the grounds of government immunity, according to court documents.

The landowners appealed the decision.

The Supreme Court’s ruling affirmed the Superior Court’s dismissal of the negligence and intentional misconduct claims but reversed the dismissal of the eminent domain claim, “remanding it to the Superior Court for further consideration of whether the specific exercise of the state’s police powers at issue here was justified by the doctrine of necessity,” according to the opinion documents.

“The doctrine applies only if the state demonstrates the existence of ‘imminent danger and an actual emergency giving rise to actual necessity,’ an inquiry that is fact-specific,” the Supreme Court’s 28-page ruling states.

The landowners’ attorney, William Satterberg, was pleased with the ruling and expects the case to now be decided by a jury. He said the state did not need to set the burnout fires on his clients’ properties and that the fire was “basically a fire of convenience.”

“It was easier to light it there than it was to do it a mile away,” he said. “We do know they had lots of time, they could have gone down a mile away from their property. They thought about it for 11 days before they did it.”

Another excerpt from a previous article in the Newsminer:

“The point is, what’s a piece of burned-out property worth versus a piece of beautiful lakeside property?” said Bill Satterberg, who is representing the landowners. “You can’t just go around destroying people’s property and not pay for it.”

The Railbelt Complex of fires eventually burned over 600,000 acres.

Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” made its first drop on a live fire in North America on the fire. It was done at no charge to the fire, with the company wanting to demonstrate the capability of the 20,000-gallon air tanker.

Evergreen's 747 "Supertanker"
Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” drops on the Railbelt Complex of fires in Alaska, July 31, 2009.

Below is a video of a large burnout operation on the Railbelt Complex, July 16, 2009, narrated by the Incident Commander. .

We first wrote about the lawsuit in 2009.

UPDATE, December 1, 2014: As Emmett pointed out in a comment this situation has some similarities to a lawsuit filed by a Montana rancher over the 2000 Ryan Gulch Fire. The heart of that case was the contention that firefighters who usually fought fire in the flat, wet southeast United States used poor judgement in selecting and implementing an indirect strategy of backfiring or burning out, rather than constructing direct fireline on the edge of the fire. In the process, they argued, more land burned than was necessary, including 900 acres of a privately owned ranch.

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

Throwback Thursday

Fire on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, October 13, 2008.
Fire on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, October 13, 2008.

Between October 12 and 18, 2008, these were some of the topics we covered on Wildfire Today:

–A vegetation fire on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay burned 250 acres. About 400 firefighters were transported to the fire in ferries and boats.

–The Sesnon Fire, started by downed power lines, burned 14,000 acres in Los Angeles County.

–Two engine crews from Los Angeles City Fire Department were entrapped on the Sesnon fire, but survived. There were no reports of injuries.

–The U.S. Forest Service suspended its contract with Carson Helicopters after nine people were killed when one of the company’s helicopters crashed on a fire.

Evergreen International was expecting to get a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA for their 747, accomplishing one of the steps leading, they hoped, to a contract from the USFS for their 20,000-gallon “Supertanker”.

–The Granite Mountain Hot Shots obtained their Type 1 Crew status, becoming the first city to have a Type 1 Hotshot Crew.

Bob Mutch received the International Association of Wildland Fire’s, Wildland Fire Safety Award.

Wildfire briefing, June 17, 2013

The worst wildfires

The Mother Nature Network has assembled what they call “10 of the Worst Wildfires in U.S. History”. Check it out to see if you agree with their list.

Furloughs cancelled for NWS

As wildfire season heats up the National Weather Service has cancelled their plans to force their employees to take four days off without pay before September 30. While a memo to all 12,000 NWS employees did not mention fire weather forecasts or Incident Meteorologists, it did refer to the tornadoes that plowed through Midwestern states last month. The Las Cruces Sun-News has more details.

Photos and videos of the 747 Supertanker, and a new CWN contract for the 20,000-gallon beast

Fire Aviation has some photos and videos of Evergreen’s 747 Supertanker that is receiving a new call when needed contract from the U.S. Forest Service. When you see the two photos of the 747 dropping on a fire in Mexico, compare them to this photo of a P2V dropping on a fire in the San Diego area Monday.

“Fire goats” in Oakland

The Oakland City Council approved $1.75 million in 2010 for a herd of goats to reduce hazardous vegetation in the Oakland Hills.

Denver post on the shortage of air tankers

The Denver Post has an article about the shortage of large air tankers in the United States and how that may have affected the early stages of the recent fires in Colorado. They also quote a very reliable source about the number of Unable to Fill (UTF) requests for air tankers.

Arizona: Wild Bill Fire

I just wanted to mention that there is a fire named Wild Bill on the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona.

Aspen Fire on Mount Lemmon, 10 years ago

It was 10 years ago today that the Aspen Fire ripped across the top of Mount Lemmon in Arizona, destroying nearly 340 homes and burning 84,000 acres.

Birds start fires in California and Nevada

A deluded conspiracy theorist might assume that terrorists have trained birds to fly into power lines and start fires, since over the last two days it happened in Chico, California and in Reno, Nevada. But in spite of the tin foil hat I’m wearing, I don’t think this quite meets the threshold for our Animal Arson series, since it is fairly common.