Victoria to contract for two large air tankers from North America

tanker 131
Coulson’s air tanker 131, A C-130Q. Photo by Bill Gabbert, March 31, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

For the first time, two 3,000-gallon Type 1 air tankers will be put to regular use in Australia during their upcoming 2014/2015 summer bushfire season. Other than a brief trial of a DC-10 several years ago, Australia has not used large air tankers but instead has relied on single engine air tankers and helicopters for aerial support of firefighters on the ground. In 2010 they had the use of a 2,000-gallon Convair 580, a Type 2 air tanker.

(Read the rest of the story at Fire Aviation.)

Wildfire briefing, September 12, 2013

Live streaming of memorial service for Token Adams

The memorial service for Token Adams, the firefighter who was killed in an apparent ATV accident while scouting a fire in New Mexico, will begin at 10 a.m. MDT today, Thursday, at KRQE and also KOBT.

Inmate firefighter truck rolls over in Arizona

An Arizona Department of Corrections crew carrier transporting a wildland fire crew rolled over Wednesday afternoon on State Route 79 near Florence, Arizona. Several inmates and one corrections officer were injured, but none of the injuries were considered life-threatening. It is unclear what caused the accident but authorities are looking for a newer white Chevrolet Tahoe or Suburban that may have been involved. The older male driver of the SUV is believed to have left the scene traveling south.

Deceased person found in Clover Fire in Northern California

On September 10, 2013 during the late evening hours, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office located a deceased person inside the Clover Fire perimeter on Coal Pit Road in the community of Igo, California while conducting a welfare check. Next of kin was notified and the person has been identified as Brian Stanley Henry, 56. We send out our sincere condolences to the family of Mr. Henry.

Survey says voters have strong connection to national forests

A recent survey of voters commissioned by the National Forest Foundation concluded that they have a strong personal connection to National Forests. These connections are so strong that four in five voters polled said despite federal budget problems, funding to safeguard National Forests should not be cut. Seventy-two percent of voters surveyed would support additional funding to maintain and restore National Forest lands even if it meant a small tax increase.

Such supporters include groups that are traditionally more tax sensitive: 63 percent of seniors and 56 percent of conservatives said they would support additional funding even if it meant a small tax increase.
wildfire serious problem
Forty-four percent (44%) of voters see uncontrollable wildfires as a serious problem. Just under half (44%) of U.S. voters say “uncontrollable wildfires that destroy property and forests” “is a serious problem, facing the nation” – with one-in-four calling it an “extremely” or “very” serious problem. This is the highest proportion to register this view since 2007. Concerns about this issue are drastically different by region, with 67% of voters in the West saying wildfires are an extremely or very serious problem and two-thirds deeming them to be at least somewhat serious.

Distribution of federal disaster aid to states

Elected representatives of some of the states that received the most federal disaster aid for wildfires, crop insurance, and storm damage, voted against federal aid for victims of superstorm Sandy.

Thief hit fire stations while firefighters fought wildfire

While crews in Walnut Creek were out fighting the Morgan Fire east of Berkeley, California Sunday night, a thief broke into Fire Station No. 7 and rummaged through lockers, desks and gym bags making off with money, an iPad, two firefighters’ wedding bands, and a watch. A second firehouse was also targeted, but a sleeping firefighter scared away the thief.

Since then, firefighters say they’ve received endless food donations, hundreds of dollars in gift cards, and offers from multiple jewelry stores to replace the stolen rings.

Tanker 131 certified

T 131 taxiing
T 131 taxiing. Photo by Dan Megna.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a converted C-130Q, has been fully certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service. The 3,500-gallon aircraft was carded on Tuesday and the pilot check rides occurred Wednesday. It should be ready to drop retardant on fires today, Thursday.

Conair begins flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85 air tanker 

Conair RJ85 first flight
Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85 first flight. BAE Systems photo.

Conair Group of Abbotsford, British Columbia has started flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85, identified as Tanker 160, which is being converted from a jet-powered airliner into an air tanker. The RJ85 is a derivative of the BAe-146, but with improved engines. The 146 first flew in 1981 while the RJ85 was first delivered in 1993. Conair is the largest air tanker operator in the world with a fleet of around 50 fixed-wing special mission aircraft, including Convair 580s, Conair Firecats, Douglas DC-6s, and Lockheed Electra air tankers.

Tanker 160 first flight
Conair’s Tanker 160, a BAe Avro RJ85 after first flight, August 21, 2013. Photo by Coastal Pacific Aviation.

The aircraft still has to be certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service before it can be used on federal fires in the United States, a process which could take days, weeks, or months.

More information about the BAe conversion projects going on at four different companies.

Fire department packs up Granite Mountain Hotshots memorial fence

From The Daily Courier:

The chain-link fence in front of Prescott’s Fire Station 7 stood bare Tuesday morning for the first time since soon after 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died in the line of duty more than two months ago.

In an effort to move forward from the June 30 Yarnell Hill wildfire tragedy, the Prescott Fire Department called for the removal this week of the thousands of items that materialized on the fence in the days and weeks after the Hotshots’ deaths.

Several dozen firefighters from around the area were on hand at the Sixth Street station to work with about 30 volunteers in taking down and packing up the curtain of interwoven flags, T-shirts, signs, and photos that had shrouded the fire station.

A surreal view of an air tanker shadow while dropping

MAFFS 4 drops on Papoose Fire, June 25, 2013
MAFFS 4 drops on Papoose Fire, June 25, 2013

The image above is a screen capture from a video of a C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tanker dropping on the Papoose Fire in Colorado this week. The drop was mostly complete at this moment — the shadow of the aircraft and the retardant is surreal. I wonder if it threw off or confused the pilots.

The video is at Fire Aviation.

2 Military air tankers activated for California fires

MAFFS 7, from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing. Department of Defense file photo.

On Friday the Governor of California activated two California National Guard C-130 aircraft from the 146th Airlift Wing to serve as air tankers in the fight against the wildfires burning in the state. Governor Edmund G. Brown responded to a request from Cal EMA and CAL FIRE to utilize the capabilities of the Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) which can be loaded into the cargo hold of the C-130s enabling them to drop up to 3,000 gallons of retardant on wildfires.

The state also authorized Channel Islands Air National Guard Station (CIANGS) in Port Hueneme where the C-130s are stationed, to be used as a retardant reload base for civilian and military aircraft working the fires in Callifornia, allowing shorter turn around times for those working the Springs fire about five miles away, which grew to 28,000 acres on Friday. CAL FIRE employees are working with Air National Guard members to get the tanker base operations up and running.

The interagency agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense requires that MAFFS be operational within 48 hours. However they usually have responded within 36 hours of the initial request. If that holds true this time, the California MAFFS may be available to fight fires by late in the day on Saturday, or more likely, on Sunday.

There are six other military MAFFS air tankers that have not yet been activated, stationed in Colorado, Wyoming, and North Carolina. One from North Carolina, MAFFS #7, crashed in South Dakota in 2012, killing four and injuring two.

The four MAFFS from Wyoming and North Carolina are scheduled to conduct their joint annual training and recertification next week in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The two aircraft units in Colorado held theirs a couple of weeks ago.

Californians are dealing with the effects of a very dry winter which has left the forests and brushlands with live fuel moistures that are typically only seen late in the summer. Multiple fires have broken out across the state in the last few days. Most have been kept to less than a couple of hundred acres due to aggressive initial attacks by firefighters in the air and on the ground, but at least three have burned about 3,000 acres or more.

Another airborne weapon will join the fire fight on Saturday, a DC-10 air tanker that carries 11,600 gallons of retardant.

Memorial planned for victims of MAFFS air tanker crash

White Draw Fire
White Draw Fire June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Plans are underway to construct a memorial to honor the aerial firefighters killed in South Dakota July 1, 2012 when a military Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 aircraft crashed while dropping retardant on the White Draw Fire. Four members of the six-person air crew died when strong winds out of a thunderstorm caused the air tanker to impact the ground on a ridgetop northeast of Edgemont, South Dakota.

The aircraft that crashed was MAFFS #7 from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Killed were Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville; Maj. Joseph McCormick, 36, of Belmont; Maj. Ryan David, 35, of Boone; and Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon, 50, of Charlotte. Two survived but were seriously injured — Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt and Sgt. Josh Marlowe of Boiling Springs.

MAFFS 7. Department of Defense photo.

The memorial will be approximately 6.5 miles northeast of Edgemont on Highway 18 near the point of origin of the fire (map), where the motor home that started the blaze caught fire while pulling the grade between Edgemont and Hot Springs. During May and June workers will construct a parking area and make room for interpretive signs that will tell the story of the fire and the fatal accident. Visitors at the memorial may be able to see the ridge which was the site of the crash. The construction is being coordinated by the South Dakota National Guard, according to Scott Jacobson, Public Information Officer for the Black Hills National Forest.

The dedication of the memorial is scheduled for July 1, 2013, exactly a year after the accident. There are reports that some family members of the victims from North Carolina will attend.

More information about the cause of the crash.
Photos of the White Draw and other fires in the Black Hills in 2012.

Military considering making C-130 air tankers available more frequently

MAFFS 5 Peterson AFB Colorado, 9-9-2011
File photo of a MAFFS II unit being loaded into a C-130 at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, September 9, 2011. Air Force Reserve photo.

Military and civilian officials are considering making it possible to activate military air tankers earlier than has been done in the past to help suppress wildfires. C-130 aircraft from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve have access to eight Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that can be loaded into their cargo holds. These units can carry up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant which can be pumped out by compressed air over wildfires.

According to an Associated Press article by Dan Elliott, General Charles H. Jacoby Jr., head of the U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, said on Wednesday that making the C-130s available more easily is being weighed.

Under current regulations, privately owned air tankers have to be committed to fires before the military aircraft can be activated. This would have to be changed for General Jacoby’s suggestion to be implemented.

When the fire season ended last year there were only nine large air tankers under conventional exclusive use contracts. But those contracts expired over the winter and the U.S. Forest Service is evaluating new proposals for old “legacy air tankers” as well as what the agency calls “next generation” air tankers that are faster and can carry more retardant. The USFS needs to award the new contracts very soon, since some of them begin their mandatory availability periods in mid-February.

At least four companies are in the running to supply a total of seven or more next-gen air tankers on this next contract. The list includes Neptune, Minden, Aero Air, and Aero Flite, and possibly Coulson and 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

Since the USFS has allowed the air tanker fleet to deteriorate from 44 in 2002 to 9 in 2012, it is imperative that something be done to make up the shortfall of this important fire suppression tool. Having only 9 is a pretty low threshold for having all of them committed, which should technically make it legal to activate the military C-130s much more frequently than we have seen in recent years. Especially if you consider that it is important to have an adequate number of air tankers standing by at air tanker bases ready for a quick response to new fires — in addition to any air tankers that may be committed to going fires. Fast, aggressive, initial attack by ground and air resources can minimize the size and the expense of wildfires.

Air tankers don’t put out fires, but aerial retardant can under the right conditions slow them down making it possible for firefighters on the ground to move in closer and stop the spread. The use of aircraft can keep fires smaller while saving taxpayers money, in addition to reducing the threats to lives, homes, and private property.


Thanks go out to Al and Bean.