Wildfire briefing, February 13, 2014

Washington firefighter shocked by powerline after all-clear given by power company

A firefighter in Washington state was shocked by a downed powerline after the line was checked and declared safe by power company employees.

Ty N. Schoenwald, 22, a Washington State University student and volunteer firefighter in Benton County received a severe electric shock through indirect contact with the poweline that was on the ground. Benton Public Utility District personnel had checked the line before firefighters took suppression action and gave clearance for firefighters to enter the area to fight a vegetation fire that was most likely started by the power line.

Mr. Schoenwald had to be revived by CPR and a defibrillator. The accident occurred on Wednesday and he could be released from the hospital as early as today, Thursday.

Snowy River Fire Complex, Australia

Snowy River fire NASA photo
SnowyRiver fire (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon)

The infrared image above shows the Snowy River Complex Fire northeast of Melbourne in Australia, which has burned about 130,000 hectares (321,000 acres). The Complex is a result of two fires in the Deddick Valley and Goongerah areas that are being managed as one.

Austin may install fire detection cameras

A year ago Wildfire Today told you that West Lake Hills, a city near Austin, Texas, was going to install a camera system to detect wildfires. That device is up and running and passed its first test in November. Now the city of Austin is considering building a network of the automatic fire detection devices.

The video below from myfoxaustin provides the details:

UPDATE February 14, 2014: Alfred Stanley, President of FireWatch Texas, contacted us, saying a better, more accurate report on what the two cities are doing is at KEYE TV. The video can’t be embedded, but you can see it here.

A company explores placing cell sites on balloons

Airborne LTE
Airborne 4G LTE tested by Oceus Network

Oceus Network has successfully tested a 4G LTE base station attached to weather balloons in Colorado. Oceus used balloons from Space Data to send the equipment up to 70,000 feet where theoretically it could communicate within a 62 mile radius. Space Data has been sending balloons into the sky for years to provide data communications in remote areas. The equipment ascends into the upper atmosphere and then is recovered when it returns to Earth by parachute.

Oceus is exploring not just free-floating high atmosphere balloons, but using lower altitude platforms such as helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or tethered balloons. Some of their research is in response to an FCC initiative to explore communication methods for first responders following natural disasters that occur in remote areas or when conventional infrastructure is damaged.

This system, when perfected, could supply cell service to wildland firefighters in remote areas who not only need voice communications, but need ever increasing data connections for accessing the internet to run systems such as the Nextgeneration Incident Command System.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Wildfire briefing, February 13, 2014”

  1. bean-
    I am not sure how the cell package would work on the balloon (in terms of size, weight, etc.) but I do deal with weather balloons. FAA regulations stipulate that the balloon payload must weight less than 4 pounds, must not have a bottom side density of greater than 3 oz per square inch, and the string must have a break force not to exceed 50 pounds. If these conditions are met, no official notice is required with the FAA although a courtesy NOTAM is usually a good thing if an airport is nearby.

    In terms of drift, balloons often travel on the order of 100’s of miles downstream of the launch point. If the balloon was launched some distance upstream of the fire, there may be a way to model/calculate maximum loiter time over the incident to fully exploit the system.

    I’d be most interested in the engineering of the system. How much would the system weigh? What are the power requirements? Can it withstand temperatures that fall below -60 F, typical of the atmosphere above 40,000 ft? And the biggest question: could we rely on it?

    1. The technology for the high altitude balloon is similar to that used by Google in their Loon project. They can vent gas from the balloon(s) to control the altitude in order to move to a wind layer with a direction and speed that better meets their objectives. Loon is experimenting with providing internet service to remote locations around the world… from a mesh network of balloons, believe it or not.

      A detailed report on the Oceus/Space Data LTE test can be found here.

      Space Data has been providing data service from high altitudes for years and has launched thousands of balloons — for data, not voice or LTE. Here is an excerpt from their website:

      The SkySite® Network consists of high-altitude, balloon-borne transceivers known as SkySite® Platforms, which are launched every 8 to 12 hours. Each SkySite® Platform takes just 20 minutes to launch and rises to an altitude of 60,000 to 100,000 feet, creating a coverage circle of over 400 miles.

      I agree with Bean. A system mounted on a UAV/UAS, air attack plane, or a tethered balloon would be more practical to provide cell and internet service to an emergency incident that is only, say, 20 miles in diameter or less.

      1. What about portable solar/self powered units that can be flown by helicopter into a remote high point(s) and provide temporary service much the way portable radio repeaters are used. Not the same amount of coverage but simple and no FAA approval needed. On the Katrina response the cell companies used portable trailer C.O.Ws, (cellular on wheels) to provide coverage when the existing system was knocked out. I’m sure they have a light weight system available with simple one person set up.

        1. Problem with ground stations is that a high point is not always available [ Florida for instance] and the data/comm systems under discussion are line of sight dependent.

  2. Balloon cell base station:

    1. Check the winds aloft at http://aviationweather.gov/adds/winds/. All that has to be figured into calculating launch points. Once at 70,000 ft, drift is still an issue.
    2. Getting FAA clearance for short notice balloon launches and air traffic separation would also be a problem.

    UAV/UAS might be a better solution.


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