SDG&E to replace some wooden power poles

Photo: ginsnob/Flicker

San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) is hoping to receive approval of their plan to turn off the electricity to large sections of San Diego County during periods of high fire danger. Some have complained that this is primarily a strategy that is less expensive than to harden their infrastructure against strong winds.

But they are taking a small step in the right direction, in that they are replacing some of their wooden power poles with steel poles. They already have about 700 steel poles and expect to replace 1,200 wooden poles in 2009. Ultimately they have plans to replace some poles in the communities of Alpine, Valley Center, Escondido, El Cajon, and Bonita.

That is the good news. The rest of the story is that they have 75,000 wooden poles in areas defined as “high” and “very high” fire risk by CalFire.  At the current rate of replacement, all of those wooden poles would be replaced by 2071.

Russian-made air tanker in the U.S.

A Be-200 makes a demonstration drop, using the colors of the Russian (and U.S.) flag

A purpose-built, amphibious, Russian-made air tanker will be at Santa Maria, California on September 26 looking for work. Well, not looking for work right away exactly, since the Be-200 has not been approved by the FAA or the Interagency Air Tanker Board, both of which could be large hurdles to overcome. It is expected that the aircraft will do some demonstrations while it is at Santa Maria.

David Baskett, a Santa Maria businessman and founder of the now defunct Pacific Skyway airline, has been working with the Russian government to bring the plane to the U.S. Mr. Baskett envisions the air tanker, also known as Altair, replacing the aging air tankers presently being used that have an average age of 50.

A Be-200 air tanker, if I did the conversions correctly, can carry up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant. It also can carry foam concentrate which can be mixed with the water in the tank. The amphibious plane has scoops on the bottom much like the amphibious CL-415 making it possible to skim across a body of water to refill its tank. The Be-200 can also land on a runway and refill with retardant.

The aircraft was designed specifically in the 1990s as an air tanker, one of the few large air tankers that can make that claim. It made its first flight in 2003.

Here is a 17-second video of the aircraft making a drop in Athens, Greece. The video was uploaded to YouTube in 2007.


The 6.5-minute video below appears to be a promotional video about the plane. I want one.

Update on Yosemite’s Big Meadow fire

Yosemite National Park’s escaped prescribed fire, the Big Meadow fire,

…got out of control when one cedar tree took off and cast embers into a lot of dry fuel,” spokesman Gary Wuchner said. “Then the winds changed direction, to the west, and the fire crossed Big Oak Flat and Foresta roads.”

The Big Meadow fire as seen from the Wawona road tunnel, Thursday afternoon. Photo: Maggie Beck

The park says the fire has now burned 2,244 acres, up from the 2,200 reported yesterday.

From the Union Democrat:

On Thursday, turnouts along Wawona Road were jammed with tourists observing the fire’s rapid spread across the stumpy forest and the vibrant cloud of smoke hovering over it.

“It’s exciting but sad,” said Laurie Larson, of San Pedro. “You don’t want to see a controlled burn get out of control.”

Sharon Griffiths, visiting from Reading, Pa., was atop Half Dome watching the prescribed burn begin to get out of control on Wednesday.

“You could see the smoke beginning to really come off the fire,” she said.

Resources from across the state have shifted to the blaze as quickly as it has grown. As of Thursday, 500 firefighters, three helicopters, four air tankers and 24 fire engines were fighting the flames.

Included in the personnel is an interagency team headed by Stanislaus National Forest Division Chief Alan Johnson. Forest Service Hotshot crews from all over the state are fighting the blaze.

On Thursday, air tankers were disappearing into the cloud of smoke to make fire-retardant drops on the fire. Simultaneously, helicopters, sucking water from the Merced River near El Portal, made water drops on the perimeter of the fire. Dozers cut fire lines along the fire’s southern edge.

The smoke seemed to be blowing away from Yosemite Valley, which was relatively clear considering the growing blaze bordering it. Late in the day, along El Portal Road just outside of the valley, the landscape had a golden hue from the blanketing smoke.

Wuchner said, unfortunately, hindsight is not a tool the fire crews can use to douse the flames.

“We are trying to take advantage of not having very many fires in the state,” he said of the large force congregating to extinguish the fire. put together some time-lapse images of the fire:


UAV used for Alaska wildfire

Here is a video of an unmanned aerial vehicle being used to gather intelligence about a fire in Alaska.



Earlier this month in Alaska, a 40-pound Insitu Scan Eagle saw duty fighting wildfires after dense haze grounded conventional aircraft. The UAV is operated by the University of Alaska, which according to university officials is the first entity other than NASA or the Department of Homeland Security allowed to fly an unmanned aircraft beyond the line of sight in civil airspace.

The Scan Eagle — which is Boeing’s best-selling aircraft right now — was able to fly low over the fires through the thick smoke. Infrared cameras allowed people on the ground tracking the fires to find hotspots and monitor the fire lines.


Air tanker crashes in Greece, killing pilot

From Reuters:

A Greek fire-fighting plane crashed while battling a blaze on the Ionian Sea island of Kefalonia on Thursday, killing the pilot, authorities said.

The accident happened three days after fire fighters managed to bring under control a wildfire that destroyed 150 homes and thousands of hectares of forest and farmland near Athens.

“The death of airforce colonel Stergios Kotoulas has shattered us,” Greek President Karolos Papoulias said. “He fell at the frontline doing his duty, battling the fire.”

The 1983, Polish-made PZL plane crashed nine minutes after taking off from the Kefalonia airport to fight a forest fire, officials said. Nobody else was on board.

The 55-year-old father of two had thousands of hours of flight experience on several types of aircraft.

Our sincere condolences to the family and co-workers of colonel Kotoulas.



Escaped prescribed fire in Yosemite NP

It was planned to be a one-day, 90-acre prescribed fire in Yosemite National Park in the Big Meadow area near the community of Foresta on Wednesday, but the Big Meadow prescribed fire “jumped a holding line” and as of 6 p.m. on Wednesday it had burned 300 acres.

Big Meadow fire at 0915 Aug. 27, view from Turtleback Dome. The small smoke in the distance is the West fire on the Sierra National Forest. NPS photo

A Type 2 Incident Management Team will be assuming command. Numerous air tankers and helicopters are assigned.

Some excellent photos of the fire are on the Yosemite Blog. A web camera showing the fire that updates about every 15 minutes is HERE.

We will update this information as it becomes available.


UPDATE at 10:00 a.m. PT, August 27

The Park just posted on their web site an update written at 1 a.m.:

This fire is now an escaped prescribed fire and is being suppressed. Fire Managers estimate that 400 acres have burned.

Fire managers began the burn on the morning of August 26 and in a very short time realized the holding lines were not going to contain the fire within the boundaries of this burn. The fire began spotting across the line into pockets of brush, down and dead logs and standing dead trees (snags) to the east of the community of Foresta.

This fire is within the 1990 A-Rock fire scar. Yosemite Helicopter 551 began bucket drops, which was followed by additional aircraft resources including other water dropping helicopters, (one 3000 gal per drop, heavy helicopter), and Cal Fire fixed winged air tankers. However, aircraft resources terminate operations at night; they will resume flying in the morning. Other ground resources were ordered including additional hand crews, engines and water tenders from Mariposa County and the Stanislaus National Forest.

Crews will be working through the night. A Type 2 Incident Management Team will take over the fire on August 27.

Road Closures: The Big Oak Flat Road is closed from Highway 140 to Crane Flat and the Foresta road into the community of Foresta. There is no estimated time for the road to re-open. Highway 120 from Big Oak Flat entrance station is open to Crane Flat, on to Tuolumne Meadows, and Highway 395.


UPDATE at 10:30 a.m. PT August 27

We just talked with a fire information officer at Yosemite National Park. The fire has now burned 1,170 acres. There was some confusion about the fire name from some sources, but it is confirmed that it is named “Big Meadow”.

Crane Flat Campground and Foresta have been evacuated.


UPDATE at 6:45 p.m. PT August 27

As of 4 p.m. PT the fire has burned 2,200 acres and it is 10% contained. A Type 2 Incident Management Team will assume command of the fire today. Resources currently on the fire include approximately 500 firefighters, three helicopters, four air tankers, and 24 engines.


UPDATE at 10:27 p.m. PT August 27

McGowan’s Type 1 Incident Management Team has been mobilized for this fire.