Constructing fireline with high-expansion foam

Chief Charles Scripps of Painted Rocks Fire and Rescue in Darby, Montana conducted what they call a “foam experiment”. Here is their description of the video:

We flowed foam using a Chemguard foam generator to see if it would have value in the wildland environment. We used 1000 gallons of water with a 2% foam solution (Hale digital foam system). The test took about ten minutes. The foam line was about 1000-1200 feet, 20-40 feet wide and 2-4 feet deep. Further testing for ‘foam and roll’ as well as different percents of foam will take place.


I have seen photos of this procedure before, and it has been used on prescribed fires, but has anyone ever seen it used on a wildfire?

In order to do this, you need a high-expansion foam generator, as opposed to a much smaller medium-expansion foam nozzle which is about 8-12 inches in diameter. Some high-expansion foam generators are so large they are mounted in the back of a pickup truck and most use either a water motor or a gasoline engine to drive a fan, which introduces a large quantity of air into the water/foam solution.

Thanks Chief Scripps and The Latest.


UPDATE September 15, 2009

From The Latest, we have more information from Chief Scripps:

The unit is a Chemguard model 300WP. This is a water driven unit so the engine does not need extra equipment. There are units that are electric or gas driven but neither develops the rpms of the Pok water motor.

I chose this one as it weighs 115 lbs and the next size up weighs 225 lbs. There is a limit to what I can get old volunteers to load, unload and carry safely. The foam was Silvex at 2% as measured by a Hale digital unit. The engine holds 1000 gallons so that was the limit of the trial. The factory recommendation is to run it at 80 psi. So for our first test that’s what we did.

I had seen the YouTube videos of high expansion foam filling aircraft hangers. What intrigued me was when they opened the hanger doors and the foam flowed out on the apron. I wanted to see how it would flow down a mountain. It seems to do this very well. High expansion foam lacks the durability of the denser stuff but it makes a very fast wetline. I think it would be excellent for ‘foam and roll’ in low fuels. I am trying to engineer a method to mount it to my engine so it would function off either side. One of the difficulties for testing is we are running out of summer weather so testing in hot weather conditions is getting difficult.

This is the engine we used.


How to test a microphone with a Sikorsky S-58

Desiree is on the right (Duh!)

Desiree Horton is a fire-qualified helicopter pilot who writes the Adventures of Chopper Chick blog. Last year she was one of the contract helicopter pilots who worked on the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California. This year she has a gig flying a Sikorsky S-58 for Midwest Helicopters. The last I heard she was on fire standby with her S-58 in Bakersfield, California, after having flown the beast from Illinois via Boise and Redding.

Earlier this summer in Illinois she flew some equipment to the top of a building for the Shure microphone company. While there, they were asked to perform a test on two of their microphones, dropping them from the helicopter at a height of 200 feet AGL. Here’s the video.


Firefighters’ memorial service streaming live on Internet

The memorial service at Dodger Stadium for the two firefighters killed on the Station Fire, Tedmund Hall and Arnaldo Quinones, is being streamed live on the Internet by the ABC station in Los Angeles. It is also available on Directv on channel 393. The service started at 10 a.m. Pacific Time.

According to the program, speakers will include Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, County Supervisor Don Knabe, County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman and leaders of two firefighter associations.


UPDATE during the service:

The comments from all of the speakers were moving. A couple of quotes from the Vice President, a past chair of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, were especially memorable:

It’s an awful fraternity to belong to … the fraternity of the fallen.

All men are created equal. A few become firefighters.


UPDATE after the service:

The LA Times covered the service HERE. Below is an excerpt from their article:

“There is very little we can do today that is going to provide genuine solace,” Biden told the firefighters’ families. But noting the firefighting brotherhood that was in evidence at the ceremony, he promised them that eventually they would “draw strength from this, if not today, tomorrow, next week, next year.”

“We all say things like, ‘We never forget.’ These guys mean it,” he said, gesturing to the firefighters in the crowd. “They will never forget – any time, any problem, under any circumstances, you will have a family bigger than your own to go to.”

The stadium was silent as Biden descended into the visitors’ dugout after his speech. Fire officials could be seen patting him on the back in the dugout; Biden watched the rest of the ceremony there.

Dodger Stadium had taken on a somber tone. Hundreds of red, yellow and green firetrucks cruised under two large American flags hanging from firefighters’ ladders and ringed the stadium. Flags lining the upper deck of the stadium were lowered to half-staff. A speaker’s platform had been set up over home plate, flanked by huge shocks of flowers and stands that were holding the firefighters’ helmets and boots.

“We are blind to the fact that we are all from different agencies,” said U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Anthony Powers, who worked frequently with Hall. “We’re all here for the same reason – to support the families and because we all lost somebody…. It’s like losing a family member.”

After the service, firefighters embraced and many lingered in their seats and watched a slide show of Hall and Quinones on the large screens that typically show highlights, scores and players’ statistics.

“Family is what this is,” Asst. Chief Gary Burden said on the way out. “These guys made the ultimate sacrifice and it touches every one of us to the core.”

A video report from MSNBC:


Tracking the Martin Mars

The 7,200-gallon Martin Mars flying boat air tanker has been pretty busy for the last 10 days, working on several fires in southern California. On Thursday the aircraft made five or six drops on the Bluff fire near Banning.

The map below shows the tracks of the ship as its location was updated every two minutes. The location was also recorded with a larger icon when it filled the tank by “scooping” at Diamond Valley Lake and when it opened and closed the drop doors over the fire.

Courtesy of Coulson Flying TankersThe elapsed time between takeoff and landing at Lake Elsinore was three hours and seven minutes.

I am making some guesses here, but if it was carrying only 5,500 gallons and made 5 drops, it delivered about 9,000 gallons an hour for about 27,000 gallons total over the 3 hour period.

The Bluff fire burned 125 acres before it was stopped by firefighters, four air tankers, and three helicopters. It destroyed one outbuilding but no homes.

Yosemite’s acting Park Superintendent takes responsibility for escaped prescribed fire

In a refreshing example of accountability, Dave Uberuaga, the acting Superintendent of Yosemite National Park said “I take full responsibility” for the planned 90-acre prescribed fire that escaped and became the 7,425-acre Big Meadow fire.

Mr. Uberuaga’s statement is in stark contrast to Mount Rushmore’s Superintendent Gerard Baker, who according to the Rapid City Journal said after demonstrators breached the monument’s security system on July 8 and hung a huge banner on the sculpture:

“Is it too bad it happened? Yes. Do I think it was my responsibility? Absolutely not. We did everything proper.”

The day following the incident Mr. Baker said:

All security measures functioned exactly as designed.

That statement turned out to be false, and was contradicted later by the National Park Service’s acting Regional Director.

But getting back to the Yosemite fire, an investigation team is on site gathering information about what went wrong two weeks ago when the prescribed fire escaped and required road closures and the evacuation of the community of Foresta. So far the fire has cost $15 million and has been fought by 1,300 personnel.

Acting Superintendent Uberuaga said:

I take full responsibility…I have apologized to the communities. I regret that we had to evacuate them. And I regret the situation we find ourselves in. Still, prescribed fire is a necessary tool in the park.

The park staff has conducted 59 prescribed fires since 2000 for a total of 10,000 acres, including one in July near the community of El Portal.

Some people take a fatalistic attitude toward prescribed fire, saying, “Oh well, prescribed fires do escape sometimes”. Occasionally there may be some events that are totally unpredictable that could cause a fire to escape, but those are very rare. I am of the firm belief that if you have the following, you can be successful with your prescribed fire program.

  1. A good ignition plan
  2. Skilled personnel to execute the ignition plan
  3. Adequate fireline preparation
  4. Skilled holding personnel, properly deployed, and in sufficient numbers
  5. Adequate logistics, i.e., equipment, water, hose lays, drip torch fuel placement
  6. Skilled suppression forces held in reserve for quick deployment
  7. An accurate and current spot weather forecast
  8. A skilled burn boss with at least 12-15 years of wildland fire experience

Note that the word “skilled” is used in four of the eight points.

Again, it is refreshing that the acting Park Superintendent is taking responsibility for the escape. That is the appropriate response instead of saying “We did everything proper”, or everything “functioned exactly as designed”. Which would have been crap, of course.

I have no knowledge of what caused the Yosemite fire to escape, and will make no judgment until the report comes out, but typically an investigation team would point to a failure in one or more of the eight points listed above.

And, congratulations to acting Superintendent Dave Uberuaga for stepping up and being accountable.

UPDATE: The investigation report on the fire was released January 10, 2010.

SDG&E to hire private firefighters and a helicopter

The power company that is seeking approval to turn off the electricity to large sections of the local back country during periods of high fire danger, San Diego Gas and Electric, will be hiring private engine crews and renting and later purchasing a helicopter that can suppress fires that their work crews may inadvertently start.

Here is an excerpt from the North County Times. The entire article is HERE.

A company with a local presence is poised to play a potentially pivotal role in preventing San Diego Gas & Electric Co.’s power lines from sparking wildfires this fall.

Utility officials said Tuesday that they have hired Fire Stop, a Walnut Grove company that is essentially a contract fire department, to follow electric line crews around in fire-prone areas of the backcountry September through November so they can pounce if flames ignite in nearby brush. Ramona is the headquarters of the company’s Southern California operations.

SDG&E also has rented a helicopter capable of dumping 1,000 gallons of water for the same three months, said Mike Niggli, chief operating officer, at a news conference designed to spotlight the utility’s fire prevention efforts in advance of a widely anticipated decision Thursday.

Stung by state investigations that blamed SDG&E for three of the massive October 2007 fires and having paid out $740 million in lawsuit settlements in connection with those blazes, the company has petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission for permission to turn off electricity in dry, windy weather. SDG&E says such fire prevention outages would black out, on average, about 24,000 people for 13 hours, but could affect as many as 110,000 people.

SDG&E maintains the outages are a necessary inconvenience that would prevent falling trees and slapping wires from triggering infernos. Such blackouts could affect De Luz, Fallbrook, Pala, Pauma Valley, Valley Center, Ramona and parts of Poway and Escondido.

But the proposal is widely opposed by water districts, schools, consumer groups and others who say the loss of power would compound the danger backcountry residents would face if a fire broke out for some other reason. Opponents say seriously disabled people would be cut off from life-sustaining medical equipment, many residents of the blacked-out area would miss warnings to evacuate and evacuations would become chaotic with inoperable traffic signals.

SDG&E also is seeking immunity from liability if something goes wrong, as a result of the power being out.

The commission is slated to choose between two recommendations Thursday: Reject the plan, or authorize it as a one-season experiment with conditions. Neither recommendation calls for granting immunity.