Knife vs rotor blade

Here is the text of an Interagency Aviation Safety Alert that was issued on March 23, 2010 by the U.S. Forest Service. It describes damage to a helicopter rotor blade when someone attempted to throw a knife from inside the helicopter to someone standing nearby.  Click on it to see a larger version.
knife into helicopter rotor blade

The safety alert goes on to explain that a similar incident happened a few years ago when a second rocket scientist did the same thing with a set of keys. The document ends with this:


Preliminary fire season outlook for Northern Rockies

They emphasize it is not the official outlook, but The Northern Rockies region has posted a “Preliminary Fire Season 2010 Outlook”. When you click on the link, it starts a narrated presentation.

Here are a couple of screen grabs.

Snow pack

Fire Season Outlook 2010
Three-month outlook for temperature on the left, and precipitation on the right. Created March 18. Click for a larger view.

Thanks Chuck

Russian air tanker may visit Santa Maria

BE-200 air tanker
A Berieve Be-200 amphibious air tanker scoops water in a demonstration.

An entrepreneur in Santa Maria, California is promising for a second time that a Russian-made amphibious air tanker will appear at the Santa Maria airport for a demonstration. As Wildfire Today reported last August, 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 United States. 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.

In August Mr. Baskett announced the Be-200 air tanker would be at Santa Maria on September 26 for a demonstration and a month-long visit, but it never showed up. Baskett later blamed “bureaucracy” as the reason, since the approval of the U.S. government is required before it arrives. Now Baskett is saying the Be-200 will arrive at the Santa Maria Public Airport (SMX) on April 7 April 10 for a week-long visit and a demonstration, and possibly scooping water out of Lake Cachuma, if permission can be obtained.

On Wednesday, the ship cleared customs in Anchorage and was on its way to visit several countries in South America before it re-enters the United States in Miami. When it arrives at Santa Maria the plans are for it to park in front of the Radisson Hotel which is adjacent to the airport ramp.

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, powered by two turbofan engines mounted above the wings to avoid water spray, can also land on a runway to refill with retardant. It has a maximum cruise speed of 435 mph, an economic cruise speed of 348 mph, and a minimum drop speed of 124 mph.

The Be-200 made its first flight in 2003.

Baskett envisions purchasing 10 of the Be-200’s, and then leasing them to air tanker operators.

Santa Maria has had an air tanker base for a long time, but a year or so ago it was downgraded from a fully functional base to a call when needed base, only open if air tankers were working a fire nearby. Wildfire Today has written about that issue previously.

Here is a link to some YouTube videos of the Be-200.

A web site has been established for the Santa Maria visit.

Pine beetle fear

There is a lot of hysteria out there in response to the pine beetle  outbreak that has affected at least 5 million acres in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota, and even more acres in British Columbia, which has been called ground zero for the beetles. Some people are suggesting that beetle-killed trees will inevitably lead to catastrophic wildfires and that massive logging or insecticide-spraying operations must begin in order to protect our citizens. But the science does not support that school of thought.

Beetle-killed trees can be more flammable during the relatively short period of time when the needles on the pine trees have been killed and have turned red, but after the needles fall to the ground the dead trees are less likely to support a crown fire than a live forest.

Here is an excerpt from an article by George Wuerthner that appeared today at The entire article is here.


The current pine beetle “outbreak” that has led to tree mortality among Rocky Mountain forests has prompted some people to suggest that beetles are “destroying” our forests and that beetle-killed trees will invariably lead to larger wildfires.

At the heart of this issue are flawed assumptions about wildfires, what constitutes a healthy forest and the options available to humans in face of natural processes that are inconvenient and get in the way of our designs.

While it may seem intuitive that dead trees will lead to more fires, there is little scientific evidence to support the contention that beetle-killed trees substantially increase risk of large blazes. In fact, there is evidence to suggest otherwise.

Bark beetles tend to focus on larger trees, and not all trees are killed. This has important implications for fire risk. Fine fuels — not large snags — are the prime ingredient for sustained fire. After a major beetle outbreak, and once the red needles and small branches have broken off the trees, all that remains are upright big boles that do not burn particularly well.

To sustain a blaze among a snag forest you usually need fine fuels to maintain the heating process. That is why one uses small kindling and other fine fuels to start a campfire, and must continuously feed small wood and/or a sufficient bed of coals under the bigger logs to keep the fire going.

Ultimately, fuels do not control fires. If the climate/weather isn’t conducive for fire spread, it doesn’t much matter how much dead wood you have piled up, you won’t get a large fire. As an extreme example, think of all the dead wood lying around on the ground in old-growth West Coast rainforests — tons of fuel, but few fires — because it’s too wet to burn.

Large blazes are driven by a combination of extreme drought, low humidity, high temperatures and, most importantly, wind. These conditions do not occur in the same place at the same time very frequently — which is why there are often decades to centuries between major blazes and most fires go out without burning more than a few acres.

In the Rockies between 1980 and 2003, there were more than 56,000 fires that charred 9 million acres. But 96 percent of the fires — more than 55,000 of those blazes — charred less than 4 percent of the total acreage burned; the climatic conditions just weren’t conducive to fire spread, even though fuels were abundant. By contrast, less than 0.1 percent of the fires during that period were responsible for more than half of the acreage burned.

Even more surprising is that a forest dominated by bug-killed snags may be less vulnerable to a blaze than a green forest. Just as a recently burned forest often acts as a fire break due to limited fine fuels, bug-killed trees affect fire spread in much the same way. In fact, green trees stressed by drought can have internal moisture levels drop lower than kiln dried lumber, but because they still possess flammable resin-filled needles and small branches that burn almost explosively, green trees are sometimes more flammable than dead trees.

Even more importantly, bark beetles are increasingly recognized by ecologists as “ecosystem engineers,” much as beavers are now recognized as important to the creation of wetlands and riparian areas. Beetles are essential to maintaining biodiversity and healthy forests.


Read the rest of the article here.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist, writer and photographer with 34 published books, including “Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy.”

Thanks Dick

New helicopter bucket incorporates gel reservoir

Two companies have collaborated to develop a helicopter water bucket that incorporates a gel-mixing system. The bucket has an electric pump in the bottom that can fill the bucket with water from a water source that is only 12 inches deep. As the bucket fills, the gel, which is stored in a bag inside the bucket, is pumped into the inbound water flow, below the pump.  Both the water and gel are drawn through the pump’s impeller, thoroughly mixing the gel into the water.

This system can eliminate the need to set up a separate tank and gel mixing operation to fill helicopter buckets.

Multiple sizes of gel bags are available, 15-90 gallons, such that at common mixture ratios (1%) the system can inject gel for a full fuel cycle (15-20 drops).

The system was developed by Thermo-Gel, which is a supporter of Wildfire Today, and Absolute Fire Solutions.

Gel bag
The gel bag, which comes in capacities from 15 to 90 gallons.
water and gel pump
The pump in the bottom of the bucket injects and mixes gel as it pumps water into the bucket.

Helicopter with bucket

Training with sand in Montana

Below, is a portion of an article from the Missoulian about using sand table exercises for wildland fire training at Clearwater Junction, Montana. The entire article is here.


CLEARWATER JUNCTION – First came the car crash – two people ejected after a rollover on Highway 200. Then came the car fire – a vehicle engulfed in flames. And then all hell broke loose.

“The vehicle fire has spread into the tall grass,” a call echoed over emergency radios throughout the county. “The fire is spreading in a northeast direction.”
Whipped by winds gusting at 24 mph, the fire quickly spread in 94-degree heat, threatening a stand of tiny trees and forcing the evacuation of a bunch of little plastic orange Army guys.

Already, the accident had injured two of the Army guys, who were quickly whisked away by a Hot Wheels ambulance back to Missoula. One had an injured plastic head; the other, a broken plastic femur.

This is how disaster unfolds at one-eightieth scale. At full scale, of course, this horrific wreck-turned-wildland fire could never fit in a sandbox. But this was just a drill.

So the Missoula County Fire Protection Association had to secure a small fleet of Hot Wheels emergency vehicles, five gallons of sand, two dozen tiny fake plastic trees, yards of colored shoestring, a handful of cotton and, of course, the orange Army guys to simulate a disaster of miniature proportions.

On Wednesday morning, dozens of emergency responders from the multiple agencies that make up the MCFPA played out this disaster as a training exercise, honing their radio and communication skills to prepare for the real deal.

“That’s what’s nice about this form of training,” said Cindy Super, a fire prevention coordinator and supervisor of the training session held at the Clearwater unit of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. “It’s pretty portable.”

More than two dozen real-world emergency workers from the DNRC, and municipal, county and state agencies barked out orders and information as the disaster unfolded.

“Right now, there are no structures threatened,” said Steve Beck of the DNRC helitack crew, as he peered down at the Google Earth-modeled sandbox terrain from the helicopter that existed only in his head. “My suggestion is to get a bucket on it and try to stop it at the top of the ridge.”

Good suggestion. But the fire spread anyway, as the orange shoestring continued to broaden in circumference and plumes of thick cotton rose from the plastic trees.


Thanks Dick