Wildfire in Alberta approaches megafire size

The fire is seven miles southwest of High Level, AB

Chuckegg Creek Fire Alberta High Level
Chuckegg Creek Fire southwest of High Level, Alberta. Photo by Alberta Wildfire (around noon May 19, 2019).

A very large wildfire in northern Alberta almost doubled in size Sunday due to low humidity and 20 km/h southeast winds gusting to 40. The strong winds are expected to continue until dark Sunday but will become lighter Sunday night through Tuesday.

The fire is approximately seven miles southeast of High Level and is spreading toward the northwest.

The most of the fire is west of Highway 35 and south of Highway 35, but there is active fire east of 35. On Sunday it crossed Highway 58, 17 miles west of High Level.

Satellite photo wildfire High Level, Alberta
Satellite photo of the wildfire southwest of High Level, Alberta at 12:14 p.m. CDT May 19, 2019.

Officials said Sunday that neither the Town of High Level or Norbord Plant are under immediate threat. There was no Evacuation Alert in effect Sunday at noon, but residents were advised to remain vigilant.

map wildfire high level alberta may 19, 2019
Map of the wildfire southwest of High Level, Alberta at 12:14 p.m. CDT May 19, 2019.

On Sunday morning May 19 Alberta Wildfire reported the fire, named Chuckegg Creek HWF042, was 25,334 ha (62,600 acres). Our very unofficial estimate of the size when it was overflown by a satellite at 12:14 p.m. MDT May 19 is 40,000 ha  (99,000 acres). This measurement was based on heat detected by the satellite. Generally a fire can be described as a “megafire” when it reaches 100,000 acres.

The fire is being fought with heavy equipment and 53 firefighters, along with air support from helicopters and air tankers.

Wildfire danger in Alberta, May 19, 2019
Wildfire danger in Alberta, May 19, 2019. By Alberta Wildfire.

Photos from the Dowens 2 Fire in western Oregon

Dowens 2 Fire Oregon wildfire
Dowens 2 Fire. Oregon Department of Forestry photo by Marcus Kauffman.

Marcus Kauffman, a Public Information Officer with the Oregon Department of Forestry, sent us this excellent photo (above) that he took May 10 on the Dowens 2 Fire about 15 miles south of Eugene, Oregon. We looked for more information about blaze and found more very good photos on one of the ODF’s Facebook pages —  those images are below.

The fire started at 4 p.m. on May 10 and burned 76 acres east of Cottage Grove. The ODF led a response that included three helicopters, two dozers, more than 25 structural and wildland engines, and 130 personnel. The early season fire, burning in brush, logging slash and timber, destroyed one home. Rain on May 13 aided firefighters during mopup. It was declared contained on May 14, 2019.

Dowens 2 Fire Oregon wildfire
Dowens 2 Fire. A firefighter digs into burning duff. Oregon Department of Forestry photo.
Dowens 2 Fire Oregon wildfire
Dowens 2 Fire. Oregon Department of Forestry photo.
Dowens 2 Fire Oregon wildfire
Dowens 2 Fire near the Row River. Oregon Department of Forestry photo.

About a quarter of lightning-caused fires that grow large are not reported within first 7 days

holdover lightning-caused wildfires
(From the research) Locations of lightning-initiated holdover wildfires in the contiguous United States which grew to sizes ≥4 km2 between 2012 and 2015. Map was created using ArcGIS® software by Esri. Basemap is a source of the National Geographic Society and Esri (2019).

Researchers have found that about a quarter of the fires caused by lightning that grow to more than 4 km² (988 acres) are reported more than a week after they are ignited.

A paper published in the Fire Open Access Journal describes how the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and U.S. Forest Service fire data were used to determine the correlation between lightning strikes and the reported location of lightning-caused wildfires.

The NLDN, which has been used operationally for several decades, consists of 113 sensors across the continental United States and has a reported flash detection efficiency of cloud to ground flashes between 90–95%, with spatial errors that are typically less than 500 meters for the flash data used in the study.

The researchers found, of lightning-caused fires that grew to more than 4 km² (988 acres):

50% reported the same day
71% reported within 3 days
73% reported within 5 days
77% reported within 7 days

Holdover fires that are not reported for days or weeks after the lightning occurs can be problematic for land managers. Shortly after a thunderstorm has left the area, fire detection efforts are often ramped up and may continue in that mode for a few days. Fires that smolder in duff or under snow and suddenly grow can be unexpected. Firefighting resources that may have been staged in anticipation of emerging fires could be released or assigned to active incidents, complicating efforts at quick initial attack with overwhelming force.

Authors of the paper: Christopher J. Schultz, Nicholas J. Nauslar, J. Brent Wachter, Christopher R. Hain, and Jordan R. Bell.

Video found of air tanker takeoff as an engine failed

It occurred at Coeur D’Alene, Idaho in 2018

Air Tanker 101 MD87 Rapid City
Air Tanker 101, an MD87, at Rapid City, December 12, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(This article first appeared on Fire Aviation)

On July 30, 2018 an engine on an MD87 air tanker failed while taking off at Coeur D’Alene Airport in Idaho en route to drop retardant on a wildfire. The reports at the time was that it failed after takeoff, but in this video that just came to light filmed by Harold Komm, Jr. it appears that the incident occurred during takeoff while the aircraft was approximately half or two-thirds of the way down the runway. At 0:52 in the video below, smoke or debris can be seen in the vicinity of the tail of the aircraft. Then the engine noise decreases as the takeoff continued. When it finally became airborne dust is kicked up at the end of the runway.

The flight crew deserves high praise for getting the plane into the air and then landing safely. An engine failure at that point is one of the worst times for it to happen.

(The video can also be watched at YouTube)

The aircraft was Air Tanker 101, an MD87 operated by Erickson Aero Air. Mr. Komm said that after takeoff the plane flew out to the designated retardant jettison area about seven miles northeast of the airport so it would not have to land with a full load of retardant.

Seven fires were discovered after the incident within a five-mile radius of the airport. One of the firefighters was injured while suppressing the fires.

Mr. Komm said he just recently found a report of the incident on Fire Aviation and offered to allow us to publish his video. We had to edit the audio to remove some unwanted background noise unrelated to the aircraft, but other than that and adding titles at the beginning and the end we didn’t change the video. He told us, “I had talked to Erickson Aero Air HQ in Oregon to make sure it was ok for me to distribute and the only thing was that I had to forward a copy of the video to the lead mechanic. I got some cool swag from Erickson Aero Air for being in the right place and time doing the video.”

This was not the first time that an engine on an Erickson Aero Air MD87 failed and falling debris caused problems after hitting the ground. On September 13, 2015 debris from an engine landed in a residential area of Fresno, California. One chunk of metal crashed through the rear window of a car, while other shrapnel was found in city streets.

There has been concern since at least 2014 about retardant being ingested into the engines when the MD87 is making a drop. A SAFECOM filed back then considered the possibility after engine surges or intermittent power was a problem for one aircraft after making a drop. Photos were taken of retardant stains on the fuselage caused by retardant flowing over the wing.

The first fix that Erickson Aero Air implemented was in 2014, “a new spade profile that has proved to eliminate this problem by keeping the fluid column much more vertical” the company wrote.

Then in June, 2017 they took a much more radical step. They had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowered the release point by 46 inches, mitigating the problem Kevin McLoughlin, the Director of Air Tanker Operations, said at the time.

On December 12, 2017 I was given a tour of Tanker 101 by the flight crew while it was in Rapid City, and noticed there was evidence of retardant flowing over the top of the wing and flaps.

MD-87 retardant wing engine failure
Tanker 101, an MD87, with evidence of retardant stains on top of the wing and the flaps, December 12, 2017 at Rapid City Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Five year effort to improve fire shelter fails

fire shelter
The present version of the fire shelter currently used by firefighters was tested to compare with newer prototypes. Left to right: Bobby Williams, Nick Mink/BLM, Blake Stewart/USFWS, and Joe Roise. Photo by Great Plains Fire Management Zone.

After five years of research an attempt to provide wildland firefighters with a more effective fire shelter has failed. Fire shelters are small foldable pup tent-like fire resistant devices that a wildland firefighter can unfold and climb into if there is no option for escaping from an approaching inferno. Many firefighters have used the devices successfully, but others have been killed inside them.

The catalyst for beginning the effort to improve the shelter had its origin from the Yarnell Hill Fire where 19 firefighters were entrapped and killed on June 30, 2013 in Arizona. They all deployed shelters, but none of them survived, however it is not certain if they were all completely inside the devices when they were overrun by the fire. The temperatures and duration of the heat experienced during that incident exceeded the capabilities of the design, which is still in use today.

During the last five years, the US Forest Service conducted an exhaustive search of materials and designs, working with 23 different entities, including NASA, that produced hundreds of different materials and combinations. Fire shelter materials and designs were evaluated on weight, bulk, durability and toxicity that are critical for determining suitability for use in fire shelters. Suitable materials were tested in a small-scale flame test to determine material strength, durability, flammability, and thermal performance. Materials that showed promise in the small-scale test were then constructed into fire shelters and tested in a full-scale, direct flame test to measure the performance of the overall fire shelter design.

After hundreds of full-scale tests, four prototype designs were selected for wear testing by 60 firefighters during the 2018 fire season.

One prototype was lighter, smaller and performed better than the current shelter, but did not satisfactorily endure production rigors and was eliminated from consideration. One prototype style was tested by line-going firefighters, while two large shelters were carried by equipment operators only.

The prototype designed for line-going firefighters showed a 37-second direct-flame test performance improvement; however, it is nearly one pound heavier and has 1.7 times more volume than the current shelter. The prototype shelter envisioned for equipment operators is more than four times the volume and nearly 1½ pounds heavier.

The researchers were unable to find an alternative that offered less weight/less bulk with similar protection or similar weight and bulk with more protection. Furthermore, past shelter deployments show that the vast majority of firefighters are able to deploy their shelter in a location that is predominantly exposed to only radiant heat. The current shelter performs very well in radiant heat exposure.

The committee that made the decision to recommend continuing to use the existing shelter weighed many facets but emphasized the increased physiological stress of the additional weight, limited storage space left on firefighters’ backs, the limited incremental increase in protection, the firefighter survey that showed a desire for a lighter weight/less bulky shelter, and the trend towards decreased number of annual fire shelter deployments. The results of the 2014 nation-wide firefighter survey was held in high regard. The results of the desire of a new shelter was as follows:

firefighter fire shelter survey

The researchers determined that the current fire shelter continues to provide the most practical amount of protection given the tradeoffs of weight, volume (bulk), durability, and material toxicity.

Slight modifications will be made to the current design to use material more efficiently, as well as updating the fire shelter’s polyvinyl chloride (PVC) bag to ensure a more reliable opening.

Based on these findings the National Wildfire Coordinating Group decided on May 14, 2019 to accept the recommendation from the NWCG Equipment Technology Committee’s recommendation to retain use of the current fire shelter.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Far more wildfire hectares have burned to date in Europe than average

Wildfires to date in Europe map
Wildfires to date in Europe, May 14, 2019.

The number of hectares that have burned in wildfires so far this year in Europe is over four times the average for this date. Usually wildfire activity begins in earnest around the first of July but this year burned hectares began accumulating rapidly in mid-February. The 11-year average by May 14 is about 35,000 hectares but this year the to-date total is 197,000.

One hectare is equal to 2.47 acres.

Accumulated wildfire hectares to date in Europe
Accumulated wildfire hectares to date in Europe, May 14, 2019.