Wildfires kill three on Portugal’s Madeira Island; fires force thousands to evacuate on the mainland

Above: A Google Earth 3-D map of the Portuguese Island of Madeira, looking northwest.

(UPDATED at 7:25 a.m. MDT August 13, 2016)

The satellite image below from Friday August 12, shows fewer heat sources on Madeira and less smoke from the wildfires.

Madeira fires August 12, 2016
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite over Madeira on August 12, 2016. Smoke can be seen drifting to the southeast. Click to enlarge.

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(Originally published at 4:42 MDT August 2, 2016)

Wildfires on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira have taken the lives of three civilians and destroyed over 150 homes while firefighters on the mainland are battling nearly 200 blazes. The fire has reached Madeira’s largest city, Funchal, which has a population of 110,000.

Madeira has no firefighting aircraft. They sometimes borrow CL-215’s, CL-415’s, (both are water-scooping air tankers) and Polish SOKOL helicopters from the Canary Islands 280 miles to the south.

Italy and Morocco have sent a total of three firefighting aircraft across the ocean to help control the fires. Russia has dispatched two Be-200 water-scooping air tankers, which last operated in Portugal in 2006.

Map of fires on Madeira
The red dots on the photo of Madeira represent heat detected by a NASA satellite on August 10, 2016. Smoke can be seen drifting off to the southwest.

Madeira is in the north Atlantic, 530 miles southwest of Portugal. The terrain on the popular tourist island is very steep which no doubt presents a challenging environment for firefighters.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times:

…The fire caused chaos, panic and despair around Funchal. Portuguese television showed elderly people, many of them barefoot or in wheelchairs, being escorted to safety in the middle of the night by emergency services or neighbors. Residents watched in tears as their homes burned down, and some were seen running around helplessly, trying to cover their faces to minimize smoke inhalation…

The four images in the tweet below are very impressive.

This video, uploaded today, was shot from a cable car as it travelled over areas affected by the fire. It’s a little long at 18 minutes, but if you skip around it gives an overview of some of the effects of the fire.

USFS tests water-scooping air tanker in Russia

BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California
BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California in April, 2010. Photo by Michael Lynn.

Randall F. Stephens is reporting on his Fireplanes blog  that the representatives from U.S. Forest Service are in Russia conducting tests of the Russian-built BE-200 amphibious air tanker. The web site has some posts from David Baskett of International Emergency Service who has been campaigning for years to import the air tanker, and in 2010 arranged for one of the BE-200s to visit the United States. When we interviewed Mr. Baskett in February he told us that in about three months the BE-200 was going to be tested to determine if it meets the criteria established by the Interagency Air Tanker Board (IATB). His plan is to purchase 10 of the aircraft and lease them to air tanker operators in the United States.

Apparently the manufacturer of the aircraft, Beriev, is covering the costs for two USFS employees to travel to Taganro, Russia the home base of the Beriev company, to conduct the first phase of the evaluation, lasting for 10 days. The final phase will be conducted in late summer.

Here is an excerpt from the Fireplanes blog, which in this case was written by Mr. Baskett:

First-Phase test criteria required putting the 90,000 pound airplane on special ramps for static flow tests and three days of flight testing to include demonstrations of the very effective Russian fire fighting “salvo” tactic onto an instrumented grid with 100 data points.

The 30 – day Phase II test program is scheduled for late this summer and will include the use of the U.S. Forest Service standard retardant flown over and then dropped on about 3,000 data collection points.

Preliminary Phase 1 test results indicate that the BE 200 passed the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) criteria for scoopers, heavily used in Europe and Canada, which are likely to see more service in fighting US fires.

The estimated cost of a BE-200 is $30-42 million, it has a capacity of 3,000 gallons, can scoop water or be filled with retardant at an airport, cruises at 348 mph, and is powered by two jet engines.

The most difficult obstacle confronting Mr. Baskett and Beriev may not be the air tanker tests, but obtaining certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which could take years.

This provides us another excuse to post this impressive 7-second video of a BE-200 dropping on a fire in Russia:

Be-200 air tanker to seek approval from Interagency Air Tanker Board

Be-200
The Be-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California, April, 2010. Photo courtesy of Michael Lynn.

In light of the P2V air tankers having to undergo FAA-required inspections after a 12-inch crack was found in a wing spar and skin on one of Neptune Aviation’s P2V-7 air tankers, it seems like a good time to look at an alternative air tanker. The Russian-made Beriev Be-200 amphibious air tanker will be tested in about three months to determine if it meets the criteria established by the Interagency Air Tanker Board (IATB). Certification by the Board is required for any air tanker that is under contract with the U.S. land management agencies. Approval by the Board is not a given; it took a year for the BAe-146 to obtain “interim” approval and then a year later, in December, 2012 the Board will decide if it is fully qualified.

Shortly after the European Aviation Safety Agency, their version of the FAA, issued an approval and Type Certificate for the Be-200 to the Beriev Aircraft Company on September 9, 2010, the Russian Emergencies Ministry signed a $330 million contract to purchase eight of the aircraft configured for wildland firefighting. This made good on a promise Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made during their August, 2010 fire siege to acquire more air tankers, including the Be-200.

David E Baskett
David E. Baskett

Wildfire Today talked with David E. Baskett, president of TTE International Inc., who hopes to acquire a fleet of ten Be-200′s and lease them to air tanker operators in the United States. In April of 2010 Mr. Baskett arranged to have a Be-200 fly into the Santa Maria, California airport where it was on static display and made a demonstration water drop. He returned today from visiting the Beriev offices in Russia and said he expects to receive the first Be-200 as early as the first quarter of 2013, depending on financing. After that he could add up to two to three additional aircraft each year.

In addition to passing the IATB tests, the aircraft will need to obtain from the FAA the same type of certifications it received from the European Aviation Safety Agency. Mr. Baskett said that process is in the works and will be guided by a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Russian governments for cross-certifying aircraft from the two countries.

Check out this very impressive seven-second video of a Be-200 dropping on a fire in Russia.

Here are some of the specifications of the Be-200:

  • Cost: approximately $30-41 million
  • Design: purpose-built air tanker, internal gravity-drop tank, can scoop from lakes or ocean, or load retardant at an airport.
  • Retardant or water capacity: approximately 3,000 US gallons. Class A foam or gel can be mixed into the tank while airborne.
  • Cruising speed: 348 mph
  • Maximum speed: 435 mph
  • Minimum speed: 98 mph
  • Ferry range (one hour reserve) 2,051 miles
  • Engines: two high-mounted turbofan D-436TP, “maritime”, corrosion-resistant.
  • Crew: two

Mr. Baskett will submit a bid or proposal in response to the U.S. Forest Service’s Request for Proposal for what they are calling the “next generation” air tanker. Those proposals are due by February 15 and contracts should be awarded in April. The RFP has provisions for air tankers that are not yet approved by the IATB which will begin service with the USFS in later years. He also said the USFS expects to issue another RFP for scooper air tankers in a few months and his company will participate in that as well. The Be-200 will be the basis for his proposals for both RFPs.

 

Thanks go out to Ken

Russia orders eight Be-200 amphibious jet air tankers

BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California
BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California in April, 2010. Photo courtesy of Michael Lynn.

Shortly after the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an approval and Type Certificate for the Be-200 amphibious aircraft to the Beriev Aircraft Company on September 9, the Russian Emergencies Ministry signed a $330 million contract to purchase eight of the aircraft configured for wildland firefighting. This made good on a promise Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made during their August fire siege to acquire more air tankers, including the Be-200. Medvedev went along as a “co-pilot” on a Be-200 last month and pushed the button to make a drop on one of the fires burning in Russia.

In April a Be-200 visited Santa Maria, California in an effort to sell a few of the air tankers in the United States. At about $41 million each, how many would you like to order?

Here is a video of a demonstration of the Be-200.

The Beriev Aircraft Company was founded in 1934 and has built dozens of models of aircraft, including the Mil Mi-26 helicopter, the largest and most powerful helicopter ever to have gone into production. It can carry 44,000 pounds, equivalent to about 80 troops or 60 litters.


Russian air tanker in Portugal hits trees and starts fires

We just found out about this incident that occurred in Portugal. From Wikinews:

The Russian Beriev 200 [air tanker] leased to the Portuguese Government suffered an accident last Thursday (July 6, 2006) afternoon, after one of its engines was damaged.

The accident occurred after a refueling operation at the dam of Aguieira, near Santa Comba Dão. As the aerial firefighting aircraft took off at the end of the refueling maneuver in the water – designated as ‘scooping’ – its “left wing hit the top of the trees and the aircraft suffered some damage” to its fuselage, said Colonel Anacleto dos Santos, director of the Cabinet of Prevention and Investigation of Accidents with Aircraft (GPIAA), to the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã.

While hitting the top of the trees, leaves and some wood entered the left engine, which didn’t blow up, but that had to be turned off and the pilot was forced to release fuel for safety reasons. The release of the fuel started small wildfires across the area, reaching some houses, which were quickly extinguished by firefighters and helitack units of the GNR’s Intervention, Protection and Rescue Group.
The airplane was able to do an emergency landing at the Monte Real Air Base, where it’s currently operating from, thanks to the flight experience of one of the Russian pilots. When contacted by the Lusa news agency, National Service of Firefighters and Civil Protection, vice-president Lieutenant-Colonel Joaquim Leitão explained that the repairs will be made by the aircraft company and that all the parts necessary to repair the damages will have to come from Russia, by which the solution for the problem will take “some days”.

Be-200 air tanker
File photo of a Be-200 Russian-made air tanker

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

Russian Prime Minister copilots air tanker

Putin in the copilot's seatPrime Minister Vladimir Putin sat in the copilot’s seat of a Beriev Be-200 air tanker on Tuesday and pushed the button to drop water on two vegetation fires in Russia.

After pushing the button, he looked at the pilot and said, “Was that OK?”

The pilot said: “A direct hit!” (what else could he have said?)

Putin rode in the air tanker in an effort to demonstrate to the Russian people, suffering from numerous devasting fires and record-setting heat, that he is in charge and personally doing everything he can to put out the fires.

The Prime Minister is known for grabbing every possible opportunity to star in publicity stunts. In the past he has copiloted a fighter jet, ridden a horse bare-chested in Siberia and descended to the bottom of Lake Baikal in a mini-sub. In July he drove a Harley Davidson motorcycle to a biker rally.

The narration for this video is in Russian, but the pictures tell the story.

Thanks Dick