MAFFS air tankers resume operation following crash

MAFFS air tankers, Peterson
MAFFS air tankers at Peterson Air Force Base June 25, 2012. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Doscher

(This article was modified to show that one of the MAFFS units was released to return home, leaving six that are still operating.)

Following the fatal crash of one of the military MAFFS air tankers in South Dakota on Sunday, six of the seven remaining MAFFS C-130s are back in operation today after being shut down on Monday to review flying and safety procedures. The aircraft that crashed was from the North Carolina Air National Guard and the other ship from that unit was released to return home.  The Department of Defense has still not released much information about the crash except to say that it occurred, and that there were casualties.

The next of kin has been notified and the North Carolina Air National Guard will hold a news conference today at 2:30 p.m. ET during which more details will be announced.

The U.S. Forest Service said there were two survivors and four fatalities, but that has not been confirmed by the Department of Defense. One media outlet in South Dakota reported that the two survivors were transported to a hospital in Rapid City.

The C-130 air tanker, designated as MAFFS #7, crashed on Sunday while assigned to the White Draw Fire northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota.

The MAFFS, or  Modular Airborne FireFighting System, aircraft have a 3,000-gallon retardant system that can be loaded into the cargo hold so that it can temporarily function as an air tanker to provide surge capacity if all of the privately contracted air tankers are committed.

The White House released this statement yesterday from President Obama:

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July 2, 2012

Statement by the President on Last Night’s Crash of North Carolina Air National Guard C-130

Yesterday, a military C-130 from the North Carolina Air National Guard crashed while supporting firefighting efforts in South Dakota. The full details are still under investigation, but the crew of this flight – along with their families and loved ones – are in our thoughts and prayers. The men and women battling these terrible fires across the West put their lives on the line every day for their fellow Americans.

The airmen who attack these fires from above repeatedly confront dangerous conditions in an effort to give firefighters on the ground a chance to contain these wildfires – to save homes, businesses, schools, and entire communities. They are heroes who deserve the appreciation of a grateful nation. I know Americans across the country share my concern for the well-being of the surviving members of the crew and my deep condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. And I know that Americans join me in expressing my deepest gratitude for the selfless determination they and thousands of men and women involved in this fight in states across the country demonstrate every day.

 

White Draw Fire, July 3 update with photos

White Draw fire, south dakota,
White Draw Fire as seen from Red Canyon, July 2, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert, all rights reserved. Click HERE to get your own framed copy.

On Monday I visited the White Draw Fire in the southern Black Hills northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota. I inspected the fire, which was fairly active, and shot these photos. Type 1 crews, including the Wyoming Hot Shots, were holding and burning out line in Red Canyon. The fire spread quite a bit to the north during the last couple of days due to strong winds, and it was backing and flanking down the east-facing slopes on the west side of Red Canyon — at times rather vigorously.

White Draw Fire, July 2, 2012.
White Draw Fire, July 2, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert. All rights reserved.

Below is the official update on the fire provided by the Incident Management Team Monday evening:

White Draw Fire Update – 50% Containment

Edgemont, SD: The fire behavior was less significant today than the last two days. Active surface fire and some short crown runs were observed today.  However, successful burnout operations took place to secure the fire lines on the flank of the fire.  A helicopter supported the burnout operations with water drops.  The work today along with a productive night operations allowed the level of containment to reach 50%.

The fire is 4,950 acres. Currently, there are 292 personnel including two type 1 hand crews (20 people each), five type 2 hand crews, 21 crews associated with  engines, 3 dozers, and six water tenders. More crews and equipment have been ordered.

Tonight, the night operation will consist mainly of patrolling and holding the fire line that was constructed during the day.

22 structures and 31 outbuildings continue to be threatened by the fire.

After a much dryer and warmer than normal spring, firefighters are dealing with flashy fuels that ignite rapidly. Hazardous steep terrain and rattlesnakes are added additional “watch out” conditions for them to deal with.

The White Draw Fire is located approximately five miles northeast of Edgemont, burning primarily on National Forest lands in a mix of grasslands and timber.

Wyoming Hot Shots, White Draw Fire
Wyoming Hot Shots on the White Draw Fire, July 2, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert. All Rights reserved.
White Draw Fire, July 2, 2012
White Draw Fire, July 2, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert. All rights reserved.

If you like the first photo, you can get your own framed copy HERE.

Update on MAFFS air tanker crash

MAFFS 7, air tanker, MAFFS, crash,
MAFFS 7 departs North Carolina June 30, 2012 for Peterson AFB. Photo by Tech Sgt Brian Christiansen

The United States Northern Command and the U.S. Forest Service have released more information about yesterday’s South Dakota crash of a C-130 aircraft outfitted with a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS), enabling it to function as an air tanker.

The USFS said there were two survivors and four fatalities. Yesterday Black Hills FOX News reported that the two survivors were picked up by helicopter from the crash site and flown to the Custer airport. From there one was flown by a life flight helicopter to a hospital in Rapid City and the other went by ground ambulance to the hospital.

The C-130 was identified as MAFFS #7 from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and was working on the White Draw Fire about five miles northeast of Edgemont in the southwest corner of South Dakota. The accident, which occurred at 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. MT, is, of course, being investigated, and the cause has not been released, but the USFS provided some information:

A BLM ASM [Aerial Supervision Module] platform was also engaged as a lead [plane] with the C130 when the accident occurred. The ASM/Lead experienced a severe downdraft while approaching the intended retardant drop zone with the C130 in trail. This is being investigated by the USFS as a separate Incident With Potential.

As sometimes happens after an aircraft accident, the remaining seven MAFFS-equipped C-130s are on an operational hold. The fleet will spend the day to get the MAFFS crews together to “reflect, reset and review,” said Col. Jerry Champlin, 153rd Air Expeditionary Group commander. “We all need to make sure our crews and planes will be ready to re-engage in the mission safely,” he added.

I searched some air tanker accident files, and was not able to find any record of fatal crashes of military-operated MAFFS air tankers, which were created after the record-breaking 1970 fire season.

The White Draw fire has burned 4,200 acres and is 30% contained. Monday morning there was so much wildfire smoke over a large portion of southwest South Dakota that two CV-580 air tankers on loan from Canada were not able to execute a request to drop retardant on the Parker Peak fire, a new fire about two miles east of the White Draw fire. They had to return to Rapid City and jettison the retardant before landing.

On Sunday, in addition to dropping on the White Draw fire, MAFFS air tankers were also working on the Oil Creek fire near Newcastle, WY, 39 miles northwest of the White Draw fire.

MAFFS #7 was one of four MAFFS ships scheduled to relocate on Monday from Peterson Air Force base at Colorado Springs to Wyoming Air National Guard’s base in Cheyenne, in order to reduce the turn-around time for reloading with retardant while working the fires in Wyoming and South Dakota.

The video below shows some of the operations at the Custer airport related to the accident.

The one-minute video below includes Black Hills Fox’s Sunday night coverage of the crash.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families and other members of the North Carolina Air National Guard.

C-130 MAFFS air tanker goes down in South Dakota

MAFFS C-130 air tanker
A MAFFS C-130 air tanker at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs,  June 27, 2012. Photo by Staff Sgt Stephany Richards

(We have updated information on the incident HERE, July 2, 2012.)

A C-130 military air tanker air tanker *”went down” in South Dakota late Sunday afternoon. Fox News and the Rapid City Journal are reporting that two or three survived — reports differ about the number. The incident was confirmed by Pat Cross, a spokesperson for the Incident Management Team assigned to the White Draw fire northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota. It is believed that the air tanker had been working on that fire.

A helicopter was able to land near the site and fly the injured crewmembers to Custer. From there they were transported to Rapid City Regional Hospital for further medical treatment, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The C-130 usually carries a crew of six. The additional members of the crew are unaccounted for.

The aircraft was outfitted with a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) in the cargo hold which enables it to operate as an air tanker, carrying up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. It was one of eight that have been activated over the last week to help suppress the numerous fires in the western United States.

*(Note: we used the term “went down” because that or “gone down” is the phrase that was used in the early reports, including those from the Fall River County Sheriff’s Office and the Great Plains Dispatch Center in Rapid City. We don’t know the circumstances, and there is a report that it occurred several miles from the White Draw fire.)

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We want to thank the numerous people who reported this to us in comments on other articles and directly over the phone. This notice would have gone up sooner, but we were out in the field covering the Highland and Oil Creek fires.

South Dakota: White Draw Fire, update July 1, 2012

Cabins on White Draw Fire

In the photo above — these two very old structures near Red Canyon Road were carefully protected by firefighters who constructed a fireline around them and then removed additional fuel by burning out from the fireline. Photo by Bill Gabbert, June 30, 2012

The White Draw fire northeast of Edgemont was very active Saturday and firefighters received the support of two military MAFFS C-130 air tankers, until a thundershower in mid-afternoon dropped a little rain on the fire, slowing things down considerably. At 7 p.m. Saturday I drove all the way up Red Canyon road which divides the fire in half. I could only see a fraction of the 3,000-acre fire from the road but there was very little smoke visible. There was MUCH less action than I photographed on Friday, the day the fire started. However helicopters were busy dropping water on the east side yesterday evening.

Sunday morning the fire crews were scheduled to get an early start, with their morning briefing being held at 6 a.m. at the Edgemont Fairgrounds.

The Type 2 Incident Management Team that had been running the Dakota fire near Sheridan Lake is transitioning over to the White Draw fire. Rick Seidlitz will be the Incident Commander on this fire while Bob Fry is turning the Dakota fire over to a local Type 3 IMTeam.

White Draw fire, 10:51 p.m. MT, June 30, 2012
Map of the White Draw fire, 10:51 p.m. MT, June 30, 2012

InciWeb now has current information about the fire.

Below is a news release from the IMTeam issued this morning at 9 a.m.

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Edgemont, SD–Active fire behavior began in the late morning yesterday on the White Draw Fire producing heavy smoke and significant fire growth until a late afternoon shower briefly slowed fire activity, especially in the fine (grassy) fuels. Four helicopters provided water drops throughout the day to temporarily cool hot spots so firefighters could more safely and effectively attack the fire.

It wasn’t but a few minutes after the thundershower passed that once again the helicopters were being asked for aerial support. Aerial support was also provided by a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) and two heavy air tankers.

As of late last night, the White Draw Fire is 10% contained and has burned roughly 3,000 acres. 181 personnel are assigned to this fire. This includes four type 2 hand crews (20 people each), crews associated with 13 engines, three dozers, and five water tenders. More crews and equipment have been ordered.

After a much dryer and warmer than normal spring, firefighters are dealing with flashy fuels that ignite rapidly. Hazardous steep terrain and rattlesnakes are added additional “watch out” conditions for them to deal with.

The night operation consisted mainly of patrolling and holding the fire line that was constructed during the day.

Weather today is once again expected to be hot and dry. There is a slight chance of light rain that may once again only temporarily slow fire activity.

Fire operations are starting an hour earlier this morning to take advantage of more favorable and efficient working conditions ahead of expected unfavorable winds and temperatures this afternoon. Crews will continue to hold and improve fire lines established yesterday in attempts to minimize fire growth. We are in a full suppression mode. Crews are also concentrating on structure protection to the northwest of the fire perimeter in anticipation of expected winds that could press the fire in that direction.

The White Draw Fire is located approximately five miles northeast of Edgemont, burning primarily on forest service lands in a mix of grasslands and timber.

 

Update and photos of the White Draw fire in South Dakota

White Draw wildfire fire South Dakota

All of these photos, except the satellite image of course, were taken on the White Draw fire on June 29 a few miles northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota, between 7:54 p.m. and 9:41 p.m MT. They were taken by Bill Gabbert and are protected by ©opyright.

(We posted an update on the fire July 1, 2012.)

UPDATE at 6:30 p.m. MT, June 30, 2012:

We just talked with Brian Scott, a spokesperson for the fire, who told us that a thunderstorm dumped a small amount of rain on the fire in mid-afternoon, but far too little to have any long term effect. The fire was still active at 6:30 p.m., but with the higher humidity following the rain, not as active as it was early in the afternoon.

I checked the data at the Red Canyon weather station near the fire and it only recorded 0.03 inch of rain at around 3 p.m.

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UPDATE at 4:12 p.m. MT, June 30, 2012:

A Type 2 Incident Management Team, with Bob Fry as Incident Commander, will be reassigned from the Dakota fire near Sheridan Lake, to the White Draw fire

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UPDATE at 2:49 p.m., MT, June 30, 2012:

Brian Scott, a spokesperson for the fire, told us that the fire is very active this afternoon, and in the morning exhibited fire behavior that you would expect to see in mid-afternoon, when the humidity is lower and the temperature is higher. They have not had a chance to accurately map the fire perimeter from an aircraft, but he said they estimate the size at about 2,000 acres.

Two military MAFFS C-130 air tankers are working on the fire. Since the U.S. Forest Service Air Tanker base has not been approved for handling MAFFS C-130s, the two aircraft are flying to Billings, Montana, 290 miles away, to reload with retardant. Rapid City would have been a 57-mile hop.

Gordon Schaefer, the new Base Manager who just transferred into the position a few weeks ago, told Wildfire Today that until yesterday the Rapid City Air Tanker Base had not been inspected for MAFFS compatibility. The Air Force Lt. Col. who conducted the inspection said the physical layout and the ramp strength appeared to meet the specifications, but they require a written copy of the ramp specs which was not immediately available. Mr. Schaefer said that next week he hopes to supply the required paperwork to the Air Force, and then MAFFS air tankers should be able to reload at Rapid City.

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12:05 p.m MT, June 30, 2012

We talked with Cindy Super, an Information Officer for the Dakota fire, another fire in the Black Hills, who told us that a ball park estimate for the size of the White Draw fire is 1,000 acres, but they intend to fly the fire and map it to get a more accurate number. As of now, the aircraft working the fire will be about the same as yesterday, one single engine air tanker, four helicopters, and no large air tankers.

The Incident Commander of the fire is Jared Hohm. Ms. Super was not certain if a Type 3 Incident Management Team will be assigned to the fire, or if her Type 2 IMTeam, with Bob Fry as Incident Commander, will be reassigned to the White Draw fire. Fry’s team is already loaning some of their members to the White Draw fire.

Map, White Draw fire, Edgemont, Hot Springs, South Dakota, fire, wildfire,

The map above shows heat detected by a satellite at 12:19 p.m. MT, June 30, 2012. (MODIS/Google)

White Draw wildfire fire South Dakota

Here is what we wrote yesterday about the fire:

The White Draw fire started at about 4 p.m. Friday afternoon northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota after a motor home driving up the grade on Highway 18 toward Hot Springs caught on fire. I cruised out there and shot some photos. Here’s one, and I’ll post more over the next few days.

There were quite a few engines working on the fire from the local communities, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, the State of South Dakota, and the National Park Service. There were no large air tankers on the fire at any time as far as I know, but there was one Single Engine Air Tanker, plus two Type 3 Helicopters and a Blackhawk. When I left the fire at about 9:45 p.m. I could not see the entire fire, but I’m guessing it had burned hundreds of acres.

White Draw wildfire fire South Dakota

White Draw wildfire fire South Dakota

More photos are below.
Continue reading “Update and photos of the White Draw fire in South Dakota”