SDG&E leases Erickson Air-Crane helicopter

On September 9 Wildfire Today reported on San Diego Gas and Electric’s plans to lease a large helicopter that would be available to fight wildfires. They now have in place an Erickson Air-Crane S-64E Type 1 helicopter that can be ordered through the San Diego Fire Department. The first two hours will be free, paid by SDG&E, with any additional time costing $7,500 an hour. When the helicopter is not fighting fires, it will be used to build a new power line.Photo: Erickson Air-Crane

The helicopter is being leased through and operated by Erickson Air-Crane and will be stationed at Brown Field in Otay Mesa.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has an article that explores the relationship between SDG&E and the San Diego City Council, and how the Council supported the power company’s plan to shut off the electricity to large sections of the county during periods of high fire danger. 

Television special about Air-Cranes

How did we miss this? From Erickson Air-Crane’s web site:

The first ever one-hour documentary devoted exclusively to Erickson Air-Crane and our S-64 has premiered worldwide on the National Geographic Channel in the United Kingdom, South Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, Iceland, Lithuania, and most recently in the United States on Thursday, September 17th and 24th under the title: “Aircrane: Extreme Helicopter” The program is currently scheduled to repeat through the rest of the year. The nationwide premiere of program on National Geographic Canada is scheduled for October 16th at 9 p.m. P.S.T. 

I was unable to find any future broadcast times for the program on the NGC’s web site. If anyone has information about this, let us know.


More debate about evacuation: stay or go.

The Ramona Sentinel in California has an article about evacuation…. stay or go.  Here is an excerpt:

The debate about whether to stay and attempt to defend your home or evacuate to a safe place when a wildfire strikes only has one answer in the mind of CalFire Battalion Chief Greg Griswold with the Ramona Fire Department. 

“If you are asked to evacuate, please do. It makes our job so much easier,” Griswold said. “If we know that you are still in an area, we have to keep that in the back of our minds, and worry about what you are doing and whether you are safe or not.

“I know that this is a very emotional subject and I understand that people want to stay and protect their homes—we all do. But in my experience, people who don’t evacuate panic when the fire gets there, and then they feel a need to leave. But by then, the visibility can be down to zero sometimes and they can run off the road.”

Or they block roads so that firefighters can’t get in and other residents can’t get out, said Griswold. 

“In the Witch fire in October 2007, we had no less than 40 rescue calls from people who wanted to stay and changed their mind,” Griswold said. 

And firefighters were not able to reach all of those needing help. Some homeowners survived by jumping into ponds and pools, but a couple on Highland Valley Road were not so fortunate and perished in the flames.

“We tried to get two fire engines in there to help but could not,” Griswold said. “I still think about that every day.”

But saving lives is not the only issue here.

“Rescue attempts take away valuable resources that could be spent on saving structures and trying to take the offense to suppress fire activity,” Griswold said. “As the years of drought have persisted, the burning conditions have become more critical and we have huge challenges in this area. The 2003 and 2007 fires burned hotter and faster than anything we’ve ever seen before. I think a lot of people were taken by surprise.”

Technically, fire and police officials cannot force people to leave their home against their will, unless they have minor children. And there are times that it might be safe to stay, Griswold said.

“But when an evacuation is ordered, we don’t have time to go to each homeowner and say, ‘You’ve got clearance, it’s OK for you to stay, but it’s not OK for your neighbor. They must leave.”

Senate passes bill that includes $4M for belly tanks for National Guard Blackhawk helicopters

Most of the National Guard Blackhawk helicopters that I have seen dropping water on fires have used a collapsible bucket hanging from a very short line, about 25-30′ long. The prop wash from the rotor blades blows the fire all over the place.

That’s why I was pleased to see an earmark in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill that allocates $4,160,00 for fixed belly tanks for National Guard Blackhawk helicopters.

Funding would be used for engineering, evaluation and procurement of the Recoil UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter R60 Wildland Fire-Fighting Tank System (900 gallon) for the Army National Guard (ARNG). This is in an aim to make R60 tanks become organic equipment of the ARNG be distributed nationwide to State Army National Guard to support and respond to wildland fires.


Gas strut explosion, Sacramento vehicle fire

The Sacramento Fire Department issued a “green sheet” that summarizes an interesting development that occurred during the suppression of a vehicle fire on September 26. Two gas struts that assist in opening the hood exploded, propelling the struts out the front of the vehicle. Both struts struck a garage door. One made a hole in the door and bounced off. The other penetrated the door and became embedded, leaving only about three inches of the strut exposed, making a one inch hole in the door.

Thankfully, the burning vehicle was parked one or two feet from a garage, making it impractical for the firefighters to make their attack from the front, which is not advised anyway due to the possibility of gas shock absorbers being in the front bumper assembly.

You never know for sure where these gas struts can be in a vehicle. They can also be found in rear hatch doors or the rear windows on SUV’s.
Photos from Sacramento FD Green Sheet

On January 29, 2009 we posted a video of what was probably the front bumper exploding off the front of a burning car. That is HERE.

As Sgt. Phil Esterhaus said, “Let’s be careful out there”.

Top 20 list of largest fires in California

An article in the Ventura County Star addresses the issue of escalating costs of suppressing wildfires. Here is an excerpt:

Experts say the cost of fighting fires in California is soaring for two reasons: the effects of climate change on vegetation and the development patterns that have increasingly relocated homes and residents into wildlands.

A report issued in May for the California Climate Change Center finds warmer temperatures and longer dry seasons are the principal reasons for increased wildfire risk. It notes higher temperatures have accelerated water loss from vegetation, “increasing the risk of rapidly spreading and large fires.”

Ominously, one study done for the Climate Change Center predicts the risk of wildfires that threaten residential areas will at least triple by 2050.

Compounding the challenges for firefighters, and escalating the costs for taxpayers, is the fact that urban development has increasingly encroached into the areas of highest fire risk.

“The main problem is that we have more fires in areas where there are more people,” said Carroll Wills, spokesman for the California Professional Firefighters, the state firefighters’ union. “In past decades many of these fires were in areas where there weren’t people. It was easier to surround them, and that made it less expensive.”

Upton said that when a fire breaks out in remote areas, firefighters can “catch it at a ridgeline.”

“It is much more expensive to fight a wildfire in and among homes and communities,” she said. “It tends to turn into a rescue more than anything. Meanwhile, the fire perimeter grows.”

The article also listed the 20 largest recorded wildfires in California by size:


1 Cedar (human) October 2003 San Diego 273,246 2,820 15

2 Zaca (human) July 2007 Santa Barbara 240,207 1 0

3 Matilija (undetermined) September 1932 Ventura 220,000 0 0

4 Witch (power lines) October 2007 San Diego 197,990 1,650 2

5 Klamath Theater Complex (lightning) June 2008 Siskiyou 192,038 0 2

6 Marble Cone (lightning) July 1977 Monterey 177,866 0 0

7 Laguna (power lines) September 1970 San Diego 175,425 382 5

8 Basin Complex (lightning) June 2008 Monterey 162,818 58 0

9 Day (human) September 2006 Ventura 162,702 11 0

10 Station (human) August 2009 Los Angeles 160,557 209 2

11 Mcnally (human) July 2002 Tulare 150,696 17 0

12 Stanislaus Complex (lightning) August 1987 Tuolumne 145,980 28 1

13 Big Bar Complex (lightning) August 1999 Trinity 140,948 0 0

14 Campbell Complex (power lines) August 1990 Tehama 125,892 27 0

15 Wheeler (arson) July 1985 Ventura 118,000 26 0

16 Simi (under investigation) October 2003 Ventura 108,204 300 0

17 Hwy. 58 (vehicle) August 1996 San Luis Obispo 106,668 13 0

18 Iron Alps Complex (lightning) June 2008 Trinity 105,805 2 10

19 Clampitt (power lines) September 1970 Los Angeles 105,212 86 4

20 Bar Complex (lightning) July 2006 Trinity 100,414 0 0

Beetle-killed trees affect fire behavior in Montana

The Missoulian has an article about how beetle-killed trees affected fire behavior in Montana this summer. Here is an excerpt:

For [Tyler] Brothers and pilot Matt Conant above the Bielenburg fire, the afternoon of Sept. 26 just wouldn’t quit. Even the smoke was weird.

“For some odd reason, when it got to highway, it would lift up over the highway, and then curl back down,” Brothers said of the smoke column. “People were thinking it was spotting over the highway, eight miles away.”

And then, Brothers saw the Racetrack campground, and two trucks parked there.

The wind was gusting over 40 mph, knocking the helicopter around. The fire was a mile from the campground and moving that way fast. Fire incident commander Jon Agner ordered the helicopter crew to find the campers and prepare them for evacuation. Powell County Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Cain also drove into the woods to lead them out.

The firefighters lost radio contact with Cain. Fire burned over the Racetrack campground. Brothers eventually found Cain, two fathers and two kids three miles farther into the forest, where they were surrounded by beetle-killed trees and no safety zone. Agner was able to drive up the drainage and lead the group down the blackened road.

As evening came on and the fire calmed down, Brothers made another mapping circuit of the fire. This time, he saw a truck parked at a small Forest Service cabin still farther up the Racetrack drainage. A big tree had fallen across the truck’s bed, immobilizing it.

The helicopter crew scouted several ATV trails that wove amongst the lakes at the head of the drainage, but couldn’t find the truck’s occupants before darkness forced them back to base. Forest Service law enforcement rangers had to drive up the road in the dark to find the two campers, cut their truck free and lead them out. The ground was so hot, it scorched the paint on their vehicles.