Update and map of Myrtle fire in South Dakota, July 20, 2012

Myrtle fire, July 19, 2012

(Originally posted at 10:10 a.m. MT, July 20, 2012)

Previous updates:

We will update this article throughout the day on Friday as new information becomes available.


UPDATE at 3:29 p.m., July 20, 2012:

The reason that Tanker 43, one of the two P2V air tankers assigned to the Myrtle fire, is not in operation, as we reported below, is that the 50-year old aircraft experienced a loss of power in one of its two main engines when taking off with a load of retardant at Rapid City Regional Airport. The Rapid City Journal reports that the tanker had to jettison its 18,000-pound load of retardant just after lifting off in order to safely remain airborne and return for a landing. Some of the retardant landed on two runways and a taxiway, closing the runways for about 40 minutes. Two inbound commercial flights orbited waiting for fire trucks and people with brooms to remove the retardant, but they eventually had to divert to Casper, Wyoming to refuel before they were finally allowed to land.

The retardant is very slippery and vehicles and aircraft should not attempt to drive or land on roads or runways covered with the chemical.

These very old air tankers that were discarded by the military 40 years ago have 18-cylinder radial piston engines with many, many moving parts. They frequently have a variety of problems that put the pilots in danger. Thankfully, the air crew survived this life-threatening emergency.


UPDATE at 1:23 p.m., July 20, 2012:

Only one large air tanker is working on the fire

Smoke fron the Myrtle fire is showing up on radar.

There is only one large air tanker working on the fire right now. There were two, both P2Vs, Tankers 07 and 43, but 43 is down with a mechanical issue. There was a rumor that Tanker 40, the jet-powered BAe-146 was dispatched from Missoula to the fire, but it got diverted to another fire in Montana while en route.

The DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, which carries as much retardant as five P2V air tankers, 11,600 gallons, was laid off Monday by the U.S. Forest Service. There is currently a very significant shortage of air tankers. We only have 9, plus 3 that are borrowed temporarily from the state of Alaska. That number, 9, is down from the 53 we had in 2002. That is not enough to provide quick initial attack on new fires to keep them small, or enough to support large fires when the small ones become huge due in part, sometimes, to a lack of aggressive initial attack on new fires using overwhelming force. Air tankers do not put out fires, but under some conditions can slow them down enough to allow ground-based firefighters to contain them. The DC-10 is not the perfect tool for every fire, but it works very well on a large number of them. A P2V, BAe-146, or a Single Engine Air Tanker are not perfect for every fire either.

When the air tanker fleet has been reduced from 44 to 9, it’s an All-Hands-On-Deck situation. The DC-10 should not have been laid off from its Call When Needed Contract. There are also two other Very Large Air Tankers that are not being used at all; another DC-10 and a 747.

Myrtle Fire air tanker drop
Air Tanker 07, a P2V, the only air tanker working on the Myrtle fire, while evacuations are in progress. Photo July 19, 2012 by Bill Gabbert

Hot Springs Fire Department was dispatched at 12:52 p.m. to assist the Minnekata Fire Department (west of Hot Springs) with voluntary evacuations “above Cottonwood”, the dispatcher said.

Only four of the seven military Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems C-130 air tankers are mobilized. If they were assigned to the Myrtle fire, they could not reload at the Rapid City Air Tanker base because the U.S. Forest Service is dragging its feet on approving the base for MAFFS air tankers, in spite of the fact that the base has been approved by the Air Force. MAFFS air tankers have been commonly used since the early 1970s, but the USFS has not gotten around to approving Rapid City for their use during the last 37 years.

Wildfires are very difficult to suppress even when competent leaders make excellent decisions and funding levels approved by Congress and the President are adequate. When the opposite is the case, it puts a tremendous burden on firefighters who are doing the best they can under very difficult conditions.

(End of update.)


UPDATE at 12:45 p.m. July 20, 2012:

The Myrtle Fire is very close to Wind Cave National Park, but as far as I know has not yet burned into the park, which is closed to the public, of course. On Thursday the staff gave pre-evacuation notices to all park residents. Today the power has been shut off and hand-held radio batteries are being charged off a generator that is running the gas pump. The high today will reach 99 degrees, the minimum relative humidity will be 21 percent, and the winds will be 10-14 mph with gusts to 18 out of the east and northeast. These conditions are conducive to significant fire spread to the west and southwest. HERE is a link to detailed weather forecast information for the specific area in which the fire is burning.

(End of update.)


Myrtle Fire map at 200 am, June 20, 2012
Myrtle Fire map at 2:00 am, July 20, 2012. Credit: Incident Management Team. Each square is a Section; one mile by one mile. Click to enlarge.
Myrtle Fire map at 235 am, June 20, 2012
Map of the Myrtle Fire, showing heat detected by a satellite at 2:35 a.m., July 20, 2012. MODIS/Google. Click to see larger version.

Here is some information provided by the Incident Management Team at 10:04 a.m on Friday:

The Myrtle Fire, reported yesterday, July 19, 2012 at 1:30pm approximately 1 mile east of Pringle, SD, has grown to 7500 acres and is 5 percent contained.

Residents north of Argyle road to highway 385 have been placed on evacuation notice. For more information on evacuations, please call Frank at (605) 673-8307. Argyle road remains open.

The American Red Cross has opened an emergency evacuation center [in Custer] at the Armory/Custer Middle School.

Wind Cave National Park has been closed until further notice.

Resources continue to arrive on scene and a type 1 [Incident Management] team [which is used for managing large, complex wildfires] will arrive today.

“Right now we are concerned about the area south of 385 and Pringle,” said Mike Carter, Emergency Coordinator for Custer County. “We have no concerns about Custer,” he said.

The public can go to Denver from Custer via Highway 385 and Highway 89 south to Denver.

People can get to Hot Springs from Custer- by going south on 385 and 89 to Minnekahta Junction.

Approximately 300 firefighter personnel are on scene.


Myrtle fire, July 19, 2012
Myrtle fire, July 19, 2012. Photo by Brian Carrico. Click to enlarge.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

15 thoughts on “Update and map of Myrtle fire in South Dakota, July 20, 2012”

  1. An aircraft consists of a nameplate and all of the components attached to it to enable it to fly.

    Each component attached to the nameplate is engineered by the manufacturer to have a cycle limit (flights) and time limit (flight hours) before that component must be replaced with a new or remanufactured as-new component.

    Theoretically, if sufficient component spares are available an aircraft can be kept airworthy indefinitely.
    Some have said this is true of the DC-3 with the large amount of spares still available from WW2 stockpiles.

    Unfortunately, out of production aircraft typically have an increasing difficult time finding spares and/or certified remanufacturers to rebuild those timed out components. Costs climb until the aircraft is simply uneconomical to continue flying as more and more components timeout and become rarer to find. However for some specialty aircraft, just having the original nameplate is sufficient to rebuild the entire aircraft around it as has been done with some P-51 Mustangs or DHC-2 Beavers restoration projects.

    Complicating the matter is the effect of aircraft usage differing from the original engineering design which will affect cycle and flight hour time limits.

    Avenger’s P2-V Operational Service Life Evaluation

    Avenger’s P3 Operational Service Life Evaluation

    These reports show an acceleration of needed component replacement and inspections in USFS air tanking role compared to the USN role.

    So how old is an aircraft really?

    The public doesn’t have access to the maintenance logs showing remaining component cycle times to get a clear picture of how “old” the aircraft is or isn’t. It is pretty easy to lookup the nameplate in the FAA registry though and attempt to relate nameplate age to expected reliability.

  2. Bill
    The saying goes among T pilots…you can teach a tanker pilot a new plane, easier than you can teach a pilot with time in the plane, the fire environment. It’s true. There is No One that can fly on fires like our IA Captains . No One! And of course our lead plane pilots

    1. Agreed . Panhandle my point was there
      a large radial does and aways has required care in handling the 3350 was basically the engine that powered the B-29. when I worked for Butler our METO
      (Maximum except takeoff) was the old cruise for a two -stage blower equipped 3350. and yes they had failures. Spectacular ones.Now
      the reliability was enhanced in the
      Tanker aircraft (P-2 and DC-7)
      by running on the Low blower only and using different settings for power.
      One of the big problems is lack of the old 115/145 avgas this allowed cooler operations. and abetter perfromance and reliabiity. 100ll is part of the
      Actually I’d love to see a DC7 with
      PW100’s at about 3000shp.

  3. I’m seeing a trend of basing everything on “age”….. “The reason that Tanker 43, one of the two P2V air tankers assigned to the Myrtle fire, is not in operation, as we reported below, is that the 50-year old aircraft experienced a loss of power in one of its two main engines”…… age of the aircraft has nothing to do with whether or or not an engine quits working. I’m thinking that we all need to stop referring to it, in this way. Arthur Webb, 70, just finished the Bad Water 135 in 33:45:40.It’s not age, it’s how you take care of the equipment.

    1. DRD when referring to “50-year old
      tankers.” the media has to make a blanket statement. Never mind
      Conairs 580s aren’t much newer-if
      any- but they are Turboprops and make appropriate screechy sounds.
      I’m not on Conair they are a good outfit actually,-I would work for them . the 580’s a good initial attack ship too
      Speaking of that:
      TBM’s 130’s are also tanked and ready btw but no one cares, for they are C-130A’s a therefore cast into outer tanker darkness….

      1. “These very old air tankers that were discarded by the military 40 years ago have 18-cylinder radial piston engines with many, many moving parts. They frequently have a variety of problems that put the pilots in danger. Thankfully, the air crew survived this life-threatening emergency.” Bill I have to address this. I spent nearly a decade nursing first R-2800s
        then R-3350’s while old, the
        engines, if repaired and rebuilt to new specs, are fine. There are still fair amount of new or as new parts out there. what happened on take off we may not clearly know until the incident report is filed .Something may have been catastrophic or maybe not.
        I’ve had it happen on takeoff and landing where it is necessary to cage one. Now as far as “Life threatening ” Most four engine tankers will fly fine on three. Did it a fair amount amount of that in my years as a co-pilot.Wright 3350’s usually give a bit of warning before they croak.
        But , I’d say that 43 had to do
        something to keep flying and
        you simply get rid of the load.
        A Wright 3350 is not going to blow up at the worst possible moment. Just to kill the crew
        they are not any more dangerous than any other radial engine. …

        1. Thanks, TB McCoy, for the information about the characteristics of the various 18-cylinder radial piston engines.

          Over the last two years I have heard of many P2V incidents that involved engine failures, hydraulic failures, and landing gear failures. When these occur, a highly skilled and trained crew, along with a little luck, can usually, but not always, implement the correct emergency procedures and checklists and nurse the aging warbird back to an airport, and walk away. It is my impression, and correct me if I am wrong, that these incidents occur much more frequently on 50-year old aircraft with radial engines, than they do with aircraft that are less than 20 years old with turboprop or turbofan engines. And for those that said here than an old person or an old aircraft is just as dependable when stressed to the limit as a newer model if properly taken care of, well, sorry, this is where our opinions diverge. There are exceptions, of course, but old people and old aircraft require much, much more maintenance than newer models. And they break down more often.

          I know that some pilots love flying the antique, 50-year old rotary engine warbirds and hearing that wonderful sound of 36 cylinders. (The DC-3 jumper planes with the retrofitted turboprops just don’t sound right anymore.) There is almost no place else where where a pilot can do that. Do you think the exclusivity and uniqueness of that experience affects their opinion of old air tankers vs. newer models? And are there some air tanker pilots that will not be able to make an easy transition from a P2V to a turbofan with a glass cockpit?

      1. The USFS cannot buy aircraft for which the taxpayers refuse to provide funds. Do you honestly believe the FS is happy with losing pilots and fire-fighters? It is not the FS officials who are the idiots here. BTW, they are out there again today in 105-degree heat saving your and my sorry ass.

  4. Good job! Coming from Eastern Iowa,I now live in Hot Springs. Your site has taught me a lot.


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