Memorial for Robert Woodhead, helicopter pilot

From the Lillooet News

Robert Woodhead, the pilot who died on Friday, August 14 when his helicopter crashed as he was dipping water out of the Fraser River near Lytton, B.C., was remembered during a memorial service on Sunday.

Lillooet – Hundreds paid their respects Sunday at the 23 Camels Bridge to Robert Woodhead, the helicopter pilot who lost his life fighting the Intlpam wildfire.

Residents and emergency personnel joined Woodhead’s brother and four children at the afternoon tribute, which brought traffic to a standstill. Local firefighter Alain Auger and Eunice Stotesbury organized the event.

Woodhead was filling his helicopter’s water bucket from the Fraser River on Aug. 14 at about 4:20 p.m. when the craft crashed into the river. His helicopter, a Bell 212, crashed 28 kilometres north of Lytton and was headed to the Intlpam wildfire nearby.

Fire hoses spray two streams of water before helicopters fly over. Photo: Eunice Stotesbury

Another helicopter in the area tried to rescue him after the pilot saw Woodhead surface from the wreck. The other pilot lowered his bucket so Woodhead could grab hold. He could not.

His body was found in the river on Aug. 19, a kilometre south of Yale.

Though the large crowd was nearly silent and the mood was sombre, many cheered in a spectacular moment of the tribute.

Two fire hoses launched streams of water into the Fraser River from the bridge. As the hoses sprayed, three helicopters flew in a row above the river, south towards the 23 Camels. The middle helicopter carried a water bucket.

The middle helicopter released the water before reaching the bridge, prompting a shout of approval from the crowd.

The helicopters then flew over the bridge before breaking formation and turning around.

Bruce Rushton, the chaplain for the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, then played the last post and “Amazing Grace” on a trumpet.

Woodhead’s brother and children tossed flowers off the bridge into the river after Rushton played. They were followed by Lillooet Fire Department Deputy Chief David Harder, who invited the audience to release flowers and other mementoes such as poems, into the river.

Why Athens burned-again

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial about the recent fires near Athens, Greece, written by Costas Synolakis. Here is an excerpt.

ATHENS—The catastrophic fires that raged in Greece for several days and threatened Athens have scorched several of the capital’s hillside suburbs. The images are remarkably similar to those of two years ago, almost to the date. Then, the fires threatened ancient Olympia and torched Mt. Parnes, a once picturesque national park where Athenians took refuge from the summer heat and enjoyed the winter snow. The current fires have burned hundreds of homes and the forested hills that used to filter Athen’s polluted air are no more. In total, 10 major fires have burned Athenian suburbs since 1981.

There are, however, stark differences from the 2007 fires. This time, Greece immediately mobilized the European Union’s Monitoring and Information Center and 10 fire-fighting aircraft from France, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Turkey joined the battle as quickly as typically slow intra-European logistics allowed. Despite the complexity of the disaster—with heavy winds creating fire tornadoes and hilly terrain dotted with thousands of power lines and buildings—the fires were put out relatively quickly—but at a huge cost.

Compare this with the Italian response during the L’Aquilla earthquake last spring when dozens of people might had been saved if emergency crews from neighboring countries had been allowed to help. In 2007, over 50 people died in the Greek fires, whereas no lives have so far been lost this summer. Partly this is because officials have learned their lessons. The decision to evacuate threatened areas no longer rests with the central government in Athens. Instead, local mayors—who generally followed the advice of firefighters on the ground—have been given the authority to order these emergency measures, and they successfully directed thousands to flee and escape the fires. Patients from a children’s hospital in an at-risk area were transferred well ahead of the advancing flames. For once, disaster plans were implemented as drawn.

And yet there are also stark similarities to the incompetence and mismanagement on display two years ago. There were still few or no forest roads to allow rapid access to burning mountain tops, thus necessitating aerial water drops, which are less precise and more expensive. There are still few or no hydrants in urban forests (and no trained volunteers to use them) and virtually no constant-pressure reservoirs to store water for emergency use.

Dry brush and pine needles had not been cleaned in years, while undeveloped land next to luxury homes contained enough combustible material to power entire village power plants for days. Amateurs were everywhere trying to put out fires, succeeding only in spreading them. Houses now dot high-risk land that burned just a decade ago. Urban planning and zoning is nonexistent for most of the country. Fire crews and reporters alike had trouble locating on maps the obscure names of unincorporated areas developed without permits just a few kilometers from the Acropolis.

Mr. Synolakis is a professor of natural hazards at the Technical University of Crete and director of the Tsunami Research Center at the University of Southern California.


Fires in Greece becoming contained

Sikorsky Aircranes scoop water out of the sea on August 24 to help suppress a fire burning near Athens, Greece. Photo: Valerie Gache

The fires that have burned into the suburbs of Athens are contained, according to the Environment News Service. Pushed by very strong winds, the fires burned thousands of hectares and destroyed about 150 homes. No deaths have been reported.

Some of the citizens have criticized the government for a slow response to the fires. A few photos and videos show residents fighting fire in their neighborhoods with buckets of water and tree branches, saying they had not seen a fire truck and they were on their own. Newspaper editorials and mayors of villages have complained about the way the fires were fought.

These were the worst fires since 2007 when 76 people were killed by fires in Greece, many of which were set by arsonists.

A lull in the wind aids firefighters in Greece

A fire burns near Nea Makri village north of Athens on Monday. Photo: Yiorgos Karahalis

A decrease in the wind speeds has given firefighters in Greece a chance to gain more containment over some of the fires that have burned into the northern edges of Athens, the nation’s capital. But thousands of residents in the suburbs had to evacuate as dozens of houses were burnt.

Air tankers from several countries are helping to fight the fires. A state of emergency was declared in eastern Attica over the weekend, where fires have burned numerous homes and blackened 30,000 acres.

According to

In addition, the European Union mobilized two further planes from its European tactical reserve of fire-fighting aircraft (EUFFTR), said Mann. Established to assist EU member states that face major fires, the EUFFTR makes planes available during the summer in a project costing 3.5 million euros ($5 million).

The EU and EU countries have sent in planes to help put out the flames

“They are being financed by the EU and have been leased from July 1 to September 30,” Mann said. “The idea is to help member states with their own efforts.”

The two EU fire fighting planes are stationed on Corsica, putting them close to both France and Italy and almost exactly halfway between Lisbon and Athens, according to the European Commission.

The planes have already been dispatched five times this summer; most recently to battle the fires in Portugal a few weeks ago.

This video has some good fire footage, including an aerial firefighting tactic not seen in the United States, that of two air tankers making drops in tandem, one right after the other.


Pennsylvania reduces liability for prescribed fires

One of the nightmares of wildland firefighters is being sued or charged with a crime when things go badly on a wildfire or prescribed fire. Some of the federal land management agencies have aggressively sought to find a law that was broken when there was a serious accident on a fire. That is why we recommend professional liability insurance for wildland firefighters who are in supervisory positions.

The state of Pennsylvania has taken a step in the right direction by passing a law that will help to protect firefighters involved in prescribed fire.

An excerpt from an article at TribLIVE:

In July, Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law House Bill 262. Sponsored by Cambria County Democratic Rep. Gary Haluska, the bill created the “prescribed fire burning act.” It “encourages the continued use of prescribed burning for fuel reduction, ecological, forest, wildlife and grassland management purposes.”

Most importantly, it provides a definition for a “prescribed burn worker” and removes individual liability from fire bosses who have received proper training and burn according to guidelines that are right now being established.

That liability issue kept agencies from doing much burning in the past because the man who struck the first match — even at the instruction of the agency — was individually as liable for any damages that occurred as was the organization itself.

Now that it’s been resolved, wildlife and habitat should benefit.

“This law will provide guidance and legal protection to land managers who understand the ecology of fire and want to embrace the best practices for managing public and private landscapes,” said Nels Johnson, the Pennsylvania director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy.


Junior smokejumpers

The Missoulian has an excellent article about a program at the Missoula smokejumper base which introduces kids to the concept of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes into forest fires. (Is this child abuse?)

Here is an excerpt:

Fourteen-year-old Gunnar Nabozney took a Junior Smokejumper class a few days ago.

Eight-year-old Molly White smiles behind the mask of a jump helmet at the end of her Junior Smokejumper camp last week. Photo by KURT WILSON/Missoulian

It’s not entirely clear he needed it, as he seemed to already know plenty about fires, airplanes and parachutes.

“Isn’t this the same system that paratroopers used in World War II?” Nabozney asked smokejumper Travis Parker as the class looked about a DC-3 jump plane.

“Pretty much, although we do things a little differently than they did,” a surprised Parker said to Nabozney, one of five kids taking part in the class sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service Smokejumper Center. “In fact, they learned how to do this by watching how we did it way back then.”

Despite his wealth of knowledge, Gunnar, his brother Joren and three other youngsters learned a lot during the one-day smokejumper program.

“We’ve had about 100 kids go through this this summer, and they really seem to enjoy it,” said Molly Cottrell, who taught the class with an assist from Parker and folks at the National Weather Service.

The kids come away with a heightened sense of what it means to be a smokejumper. But they also learned about fire, its behavior and how that behavior is influenced by weather.

“It’s pretty neat stuff,” 10-year-old Joren Nabozney said.

Thanks Dick