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
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.
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.
“Her cards were up,” said mother Claire Veseth, 55, a nurse in this college town. “It was an act of God.”
Los Angeles City FD adds another helicopter to its fleet
The Los Angeles City Fire Department is leasing an Erickson Air Crane for four months. This baby has a forward-pointing water cannon designed for high-rise fires. It can fill its tank two different ways, by the usual hover-and-draft mode, or by lowering a pipe and scooping water as it flies at speed over a large water source.
42 uncontained large fires in the US
After having 70 uncontained large fires in the country on Wednesday, that number is now down to 40. The number of incident management teams committed, including Type 1, Type 2, NIMO, and Area Command, has declined from 31 to 28. Six military MAFFS C-130s are still actively working out of Boise and Sacramento.
Smoke from wildfires
The smoke map shows dense smoke in Idaho and also an interesting area of dense smoke over the Atlantic east of Maine.
USFS issues RFI for Very Large Air Tankers
The U.S. Forest Service has issued a Request for Information which could lead to Call When Needed contracts for Very Large Air Tankers beginning next year continuing through 2015. 10 Tanker Air Carrier currently has a CWN contract for their two DC-10s, but it remains to be seen if any company with VLATs can succeed financially if they are only used for 60 to 100 hours each year, with no guarantees of ANY income. Evergreen in the past has not been interested in signing up their 20,000-gallon 747 Super Tanker on a CWN contract. The RFI specifies that the aircraft must be able to hold at least 10,000 gallons. The USFS expects to issue a Request for Proposals later in the year which they think could lead to one to three VLATs under CWN contracts in 2013. Or… it could lead to none.
A reporter for 9news.com in Colorado, in the video below, asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who supervises the U.S. Forest Service, why the very large air tankers like the two DC-10s or the 747 have not been used on fires in Colorado. His answers revolved around “every fire is different” and “it’s complicated”.
Evergreen International Aviation, the company that built the 20,000-gallon air tanker, or “Supertanker” as they call it, has released a statement that attempts to answer some of the many questions they have received asking why the U.S. Forest Service refuses to use the 747 air tanker, which carries about 10 times more than a P2V. The company says they have never received an explanation from the USFS, but speculates that contracting requirements favoring small businesses may be the reason.
The USFS only offered the two companies with Very Large Air Tankers call when needed contracts, not exclusive use contracts. Without any guaranteed income, Evergreen turned the offer down, while 10 Tanker Air Carrier is struggling to remain in business after accepting a CWN contract for one of their two DC-10 air tankers, which is used only rarely by the USFS.
Evergreen International Aviation Statement Concerning the Supertanker
We felt compelled to release this statement due to the overwhelming amount of calls we have received concerning the availability of the Evergreen Supertanker. We at Evergreen are saddened by the fire devastation now taking place in many Western US states. For over 60 years, we have supported the US Forest Service in its important mission to battle and control fires, and it is our desire to continue this rich history of service. While our helicopters continue to work fires for the State of Alaska under State contracts, unfortunately, our Boeing 747 Supertanker Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) aircraft awaits activation with the US Forest Service.
We have never been told why we have not been activated by the US Forest Service, so we can only speculate as to why we face this outcome:
1. We were offered a Call-When-Needed (CWN) contract a few years ago by the US ForestService (proving our technical viability), but we were never called into action resulting in a multi-million dollar loss to our company as we were required to maintain and have flight crew available should we be called. The only contact that will sustain a VLAT program is an Exclusive-Use contract, which provides an income stream to sustain the program even if the asset is not utilized. We invested over $50M to develop this asset in the firm belief that we could better control fires as we proved in Israel and Mexico under CWN contracts that we could afford to offer at the time.
2. There have been recent changes to the US Forest Service procurement policies. Today,only small businesses are eligible for contract awards concerning airtanker assets; Evergreen is not a small business and, therefore, is excluded from consideration for any award.
3. The US Forest Service’s specification for Next Generation Air Tanker aircraft limits tanksize to 5,000 gallons. The Supertanker’s tanks hold about 20,000 gallons, which is considered outside the USFS specification. The USFS just awarded contracts to four small businesses with aircraft equipped with these smaller tanks, and excluded the Evergreen Supertanker. Since World War II, tank capacities have been in the 3,000 to 5,000 gallon range, yet continue to face the growing threat from mega fires today. We believe the Supertanker represents an overwhelming response to this growing threat.
Please contact your state representatives in Washington DC to demand an examination of their current procurement policies concerning VLAT aircraft. The US Forest Service says it best: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”
In the aftermath of Sunday’s tragic air tanker accidents in which two pilots working for Neptune Aviation were killed, and a second air tanker made an emergency landing on disabled landing gear, the U.S. Forest Service announced today that they have “shored up” the air tanker fleet by temporarily adding some aircraft. They are arranging for two CV-580 air tankers to become available on a temporary basis. One is under contract with the state of Alaska and the other is being borrowed from the Canadian Interagency Fire Centre. The CV-580s can carry 2,100 gallons of retardant, about the same as the P2Vs that currently comprise eight of the nine air tankers on exclusive use contracts with the USFS, but they are speedier, cruising 115 mph faster than the P2Vs.
CAL FIRE reached out to the USFS and allowed the federal agency to arrange to bring on two CAL FIRE air tankers, presumably S-2Ts, one month earlier than they would have come on duty otherwise. These two aircraft will be used in California. An S-2T carries 1,200 gallons of retardant.
The USFS is also bringing on five large Type 1 helicopters earlier than previously scheduled.
When I saw the headline on the USFS news release announcing they were “shoring up” the air tanker fleet, I wondered if they were finally announcing that they have awarded multiple contracts for “new generation” air tankers. The solicitation for the next-gen air tankers closed in February, but as usual, the U.S. Forest Service office of Fire and Aviation Management has difficulty making decisions. There was also the possibility that they were going to announce exclusive use contracts or call when needed activations for the very large air tankers, such as the DC-10’s or the 747, but that did not happen either.
This “shoring up” tactic is smoke and mirrors — a band-aid on a serious case of analysis-paralysis cancer in the agency. It is simply a distraction from the real issue.
We have tried to find out the details of the USFS’ solicitation for a sixth air tanker study, which closed April 20, but calls to Kellan Logan, the USFS contracting officer in charge of the solicitation, have not been returned.
UPDATE AT 9:13 a.m. MT, June 7:
We heard from Mr. Logan today about the sixth air tanker study, which has been awarded.