Wildfire news, August 4, 2008

CalFire’s air tankers

The Press-Enterprise has an interesting article about the current fleet of CalFire air tankers. Here are some excerpts:

In deciding which planes to assign to a particular fire, the variables include each plane’s payload and the round-trip time between the fire and its reloading base. 

The results can be surprising: The slow but very large 7,200-gallon World War II (Martin Mars) seaplane operating from Lake Shasta, for example, surpassed the entire fleet of faster but smaller 3,000-gallon military C-130s shuttling between fires and more distant airfields on one very busy shift.

“Eight (C-130s) dropped 75,000 gallons in one day. I think that was their record,” Hulbert said. “And the Martin Mars (seaplane) … dropped 110,000 gallons. It tells you that, if it’s in close proximity to a lake, it’s a very effective tool.”

and

This year, the Forest Service has agreed for the first time to reimburse Cal Fire for DC-10 costs incurred when the supertanker is dispatched to battle fires on federal land. 

and

California no longer can count on the availability of the U.S. Forest Service’s large tankers, whose numbers have dwindled from 33 in early 2004 to 19 this year, because of safety concerns, said Cal Fire Aviation Chief Mike Padilla. 

This year, Cal Fire has exclusive access to the big jet and a four-engine DC-7. The agency has a call-when-needed contract with a huge Canadian-based Martin Mars seaplane.

Cal Fire also can request any or all of nine other large Canadian tankers, four of which helped fight the lightning-sparked fires that burned across Northern California during June and July, Padilla said.

As always, Cal Fire has its own permanent fleet of 23 medium-size S-2T Trackers, speedy ex-Navy submarine hunters that have been modified to pounce on small fires.

The U.S. Forest Service still has not approved the proposed contract that Evergreen submitted several weeks ago for their 747 “Super Tanker”.

Preventing power lines from causing fires

The North County Times has an article about the power line that started the 198,000-acre Witch Creek fire east of San Diego last year, and how to prevent similar fires.

Billings air tanker base

The Jackson Hole Star Tribune has an article about the air tanker base at Billings, Montana.

USDA’s Office of Inspector General Issues Report on Air Tankers

TBM Air Tanker
TBM Air Tanker. Photo by Bill Gabbert

From Scripps News:

The Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General criticizes the U.S. Forest Service’s report on air tankers. The OIG report is HERE.

Excerpts from the article:

U.S. Forest Service air tankers used in California and other Western states are potentially vulnerable to accidents, investigators warn in a new report.Despite making strides to improve air safety, the Forest Service could still use more money, better long-range planning and stricter aircraft inspections, among other improvements, federal investigators said.”The Forest Service has suffered numerous, potentially preventable aviation accidents over the years, and continues to be at risk for more,” the investigators with the Agriculture Department’s Office of Inspector General noted this week.

“Firefighting aircraft are often subject to stresses well above those experienced in the flying environment for which they were originally designed,” the Office of Inspector General investigators observed, adding that “it is imperative to ensure that they can withstand the stresses of the fire environment.”

Forest Service officials largely agree with the 49-page critique, the latest in a series of reports, audits and hearings that have targeted the firefighting air fleet.

“The Forest Service takes very seriously its responsibility for safety in aviation, and has been working steadily to improve the air safety program,” Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell said in the agency’s official response.

By January, Forest Service officials promise a comprehensive plan to assess the airworthiness of its tanker fleet. The agency owns and operates 26 aircraft outright and leases 771.

In its official response, the Forest Service is resisting recommendations that the Federal Aviation Administration take more responsibility for the firefighting air safety program. Currently, the FAA approves planes generally but does not specifically determine whether the aircraft are fit for firefighting.

The Forest Service “possesses neither the technical information nor the expertise to assess its firefighting aircrafts’ airworthiness,” investigators said.

Kimbell retorted that “the FAA clearly has no … jurisdiction” over the firefighting (aircraft).