Feds to close Minden-Tahoe air tanker base

Tanker 09 last drop
Air tanker 09 making their last drop, September 1, 2008 before it crashed at Reno later that day.

The Bureau of Land Management will consolidate their air tanker operations that have been at Minden-Tahoe airport and Reno-Stead airport into just having facilities at the Reno-Stead airport.

On the map below, Lake Tahoe is the large lake on the left or west side of the map.)

The BLM says they no longer have the funding to fully staff both bases.

The closing of the air tanker facilities is generating some conflicting opinions in the public comments following an article at RGJ.com. But the reality is, the two bases are only 36 miles apart, which is about 10-15 minutes flying time for an air tanker, depending on the type.

Thanks, Dick. Map: Google Earth

Wildfire news, September 17, 2008

Firefighter injured while falling a snag

On September 10 a firefighter from the Entiat Hot Shots was injured while falling a snag on the Rattle fire near Toketee Falls, Oregon.

From NRtoday.com, Sept. 16:

Pilar Castro, a Wenatchee, Wash., firefighter said to be in his mid-20s, suffered a fractured skull and broken ribs when the top of a dead tree broke off and struck him Wednesday, said Robin DeMario, spokeswoman for the Okanogan-Wenatchee 

National Forest.

Castro, a member of a hot shot crew, had to have surgery on his skull and part of his jaw reconstructed. He was flown by helicopter to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg.

The firefighter remained there in fair condition this morning, a hospital spokeswoman said. DeMario said Castro is expected to fly today to a hospital in Wenatchee, where he will undergo rehabilitation for about a month.

From Inciweb, Sept. 13:

Last Wednesday evening, a firefighter was injured while cutting a dead tree with a chain saw along the fire line. He was injured near his cheek and bruised his ribs. After being airlifted to the hospital in Roseburg, he was treated for his injuries and is recuperating. On Sunday, he will be flown home to Washington State where he is expected to make a full recovery. It was very fortunate that his accident occurred near an established helicopter landing site where he could be air lifted for immediate medical treatment. 

Thanks for the tip, LR
Oregon:  Rattle fire spots 2 miles ahead

Rocks and logs on Highway 138, Sept. 10, 2008
The fire on which the firefighter was injured while falling a snag last week has been very active.

Idleyld Park, OR — Yesterday’s severe fire weather conditions contributed to some very extreme fire behavior. A plume of smoke rose to over 35,000 feet and carried fire brands up to 2 miles from the head of the fire. The fire grew an estimated 4,183 acres and now totals 11,207 acres, most of which remains within the boundary of the Boulder Creek Wilderness. 

Photo and text from InciWeb

San Diego County contracts for Superscoopers

San Diego County is gradually taking steps to increase their fire preparedness after being criticized in reports following their massive fires of 2003 and 2007.  The City of San Diego recently purchased their second helicopter, and the County is contracting for two Bombardier CL-415 Superscooper air tankers and a lead plane for three months.
HERE is a link to a page with a video from San Diego 6 that shows a demonstration of the aircraft in action Tuesday.
Contract firefighter dies following road grader accident
A 77-year-old Happy Camp man has died from injuries suffered while serving as a contract firefighter in Siskiyou County, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman said Tuesday.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday commended Curtis Hillman Sr. for his service and announced that Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff in his honor, a spokesman from his office said.
Hillman, a member of the Karuk tribe, was operating a grader to improve road conditions and access for firefighters. They were working the Siskiyou and Blue 2 Complex of fires when Hillman was injured Aug. 25, public information officer Mike Ferris said.
He was working on forest roads 14 and 21, about half a mile from Highway 96 just south of Dillon Creek Campground, Ferris said. The area is halfway between Happy Camp and Orleans.
When his grader failed to start, Hillman and another worker tried to fix the problem. The grader then started, but its brake failed and it began to roll backward. Both men fell or jumped off the machine, and Hillman hit his head, Ferris said.
He was flown to Mercy Medical Center in Redding, where he died from his injuries Thursday, Ferris said.
His is the 13th death as a result of the June lightning strikes that ignited fires across the north state.
A celebration of Hillman’s life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the River Park Pavilion in Happy Camp, Ferris said.

Wildfire news, September 1, 2008

South Africa: 20 killed in brush fires

(from AHN)

Cape Town, South Africa (AHN) – At least 20 people died in runaway brush fires fueled by strong winds in South Africa over the weekend.

More than 100 fires across the country burned 125,000 acres of land.

In KwaZulu-Natal province 13 people were killed and 25 others after being burned in fires that roared through the area. Elsewhere in the province, another three people were burned to death and five others hospitalized for burns after their shack caught fire in Eastern Cape.

In Mpumalanga province three people were killed by fires.

“This is almost typical weather for August-September with late winds and early spring. There are hot conditions but you still get cold fronts hitting the Cape,” South Africa Weather Service forecaster Evert Scholtz told Afrol News.

But although the windy conditions are common for this time of year, the large number of deadly fires in different parts of the country are not, says Percy Morokane from Johannesburg’s Emergency Services.

“This particular situation has never been experienced before. Reports are coming in from all over the country,” Morokane told BBC news.

Montana: Dunn Mountain fire: contained at 102,383 acres

This huge fire 30 miles northeast of Billings received some rain late on Sunday. The precipitation and cooler temperatures enabled firefighters to make good progress Sunday and Monday, resulting in the fire being 100% contained today. Here is a photo from a couple of days ago:


Wyoming: Gunbarrel fire update

The fire received from a quarter to over a half an inch of rain on Sunday. Paul Broyles’ Type 1 Incident Management Team will transition to a smaller Type 3 Team on Wednesday and the Incident Command Post will move back to Wapiti Ranger Station when that occurs.

Some numbers:

61,923 acres
70% contained
338 personnel assigned
$10,300,000 spent
5 helicopters assigned

California: Burnside fire

UPDATE @ 1:52 p.m. MT Aug. 9

Cool temperatures overnight in the 30s helped to slow the progress of this fire. Some structures are still threatened and the size is reported to be 150 acres.

=============================

A fast-moving fire south of Lake Tahoe had burned at least 125 acres as of Sunday evening. Two resorts, three campgrounds and about 20 homes are being evacuated for the fire south of Highway 88, 6 miles west of Woodfords. Sunday evening the fire was crowning in timber, pushed by strong west winds. A Type 3 incident management team has been ordered. Lat/Long: 38 45′ 28.8″ -119 55′ 23.17″ . HERE is a link to a Google map.

A strong cold front moved through the area Sunday night. Much cooler weather is expected for Monday and Monday night, followed by a rapid warm-up from Tuesday onward. Winds will remain generally light through at least Wednesday.



Photos courtesy of Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Aircraft used during the Seige of ’08

AINonline has an interesting article that summarizes the vast aircraft resources that were used during the lightning bust in northern California this summer. Here is an excerpt:

In addition to the rotorcraft assets, the effort employed a wide range of fixed-wing aircraft–ranging from a DC-10 waterbomber to the Predator UAV–to help control the blazes.

Cal Fire fielded a fleet of 23 S2T twin-turboprop waterbombers based out of the former McClellan AFB, along with 14 OV-10 Broncos used for aerial and ground control. Eight C-130 Hercules belonging to the Air Force Reserve and National Guard were quickly converted into fire bombers through the installation of modular airborne firefighting systems and used to great effect, according to authorities.

A pair of National Guard infrared-sensing RC-26s–used frequently on drug interdiction missions–was deployed to identify hot spots in the conflagration and relay real-time images to the crews on the ground. The massive Martin Mars flying boat and a squadron of four Convair CV-580s, each capable of carrying 2,000 gallons of flame retardant, came from Canada.

Wildfire news, August 4, 2008

CalFire’s air tankers

The Press-Enterprise has an interesting article about the current fleet of CalFire air tankers. Here are some excerpts:

In deciding which planes to assign to a particular fire, the variables include each plane’s payload and the round-trip time between the fire and its reloading base. 

The results can be surprising: The slow but very large 7,200-gallon World War II (Martin Mars) seaplane operating from Lake Shasta, for example, surpassed the entire fleet of faster but smaller 3,000-gallon military C-130s shuttling between fires and more distant airfields on one very busy shift.

“Eight (C-130s) dropped 75,000 gallons in one day. I think that was their record,” Hulbert said. “And the Martin Mars (seaplane) … dropped 110,000 gallons. It tells you that, if it’s in close proximity to a lake, it’s a very effective tool.”

and

This year, the Forest Service has agreed for the first time to reimburse Cal Fire for DC-10 costs incurred when the supertanker is dispatched to battle fires on federal land. 

and

California no longer can count on the availability of the U.S. Forest Service’s large tankers, whose numbers have dwindled from 33 in early 2004 to 19 this year, because of safety concerns, said Cal Fire Aviation Chief Mike Padilla. 

This year, Cal Fire has exclusive access to the big jet and a four-engine DC-7. The agency has a call-when-needed contract with a huge Canadian-based Martin Mars seaplane.

Cal Fire also can request any or all of nine other large Canadian tankers, four of which helped fight the lightning-sparked fires that burned across Northern California during June and July, Padilla said.

As always, Cal Fire has its own permanent fleet of 23 medium-size S-2T Trackers, speedy ex-Navy submarine hunters that have been modified to pounce on small fires.

The U.S. Forest Service still has not approved the proposed contract that Evergreen submitted several weeks ago for their 747 “Super Tanker”.

Preventing power lines from causing fires

The North County Times has an article about the power line that started the 198,000-acre Witch Creek fire east of San Diego last year, and how to prevent similar fires.

Billings air tanker base

The Jackson Hole Star Tribune has an article about the air tanker base at Billings, Montana.

USDA’s Office of Inspector General Issues Report on Air Tankers

TBM Air Tanker
TBM Air Tanker. Photo by Bill Gabbert

From Scripps News:

The Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General criticizes the U.S. Forest Service’s report on air tankers. The OIG report is HERE.

Excerpts from the article:

U.S. Forest Service air tankers used in California and other Western states are potentially vulnerable to accidents, investigators warn in a new report.Despite making strides to improve air safety, the Forest Service could still use more money, better long-range planning and stricter aircraft inspections, among other improvements, federal investigators said.”The Forest Service has suffered numerous, potentially preventable aviation accidents over the years, and continues to be at risk for more,” the investigators with the Agriculture Department’s Office of Inspector General noted this week.

“Firefighting aircraft are often subject to stresses well above those experienced in the flying environment for which they were originally designed,” the Office of Inspector General investigators observed, adding that “it is imperative to ensure that they can withstand the stresses of the fire environment.”

Forest Service officials largely agree with the 49-page critique, the latest in a series of reports, audits and hearings that have targeted the firefighting air fleet.

“The Forest Service takes very seriously its responsibility for safety in aviation, and has been working steadily to improve the air safety program,” Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell said in the agency’s official response.

By January, Forest Service officials promise a comprehensive plan to assess the airworthiness of its tanker fleet. The agency owns and operates 26 aircraft outright and leases 771.

In its official response, the Forest Service is resisting recommendations that the Federal Aviation Administration take more responsibility for the firefighting air safety program. Currently, the FAA approves planes generally but does not specifically determine whether the aircraft are fit for firefighting.

The Forest Service “possesses neither the technical information nor the expertise to assess its firefighting aircrafts’ airworthiness,” investigators said.

Kimbell retorted that “the FAA clearly has no … jurisdiction” over the firefighting (aircraft).

Photo of P-3 Orion dropping on fire in Utah

P-3 Orion drops on a fire in Utah
Photo by the helitack crew at Zion National Park

I ran across this fantastic photo of air tanker 00, a P-3 Orion, dropping on a fire near Cedar City, Utah, in 2006. It is from a new blog about the helitack crew at Zion National Park. Click on the photo to see a larger version. (I took the liberty of cropping it.)