Wildfire briefing, May 8, 2013

The Japanese bombed an Oregon forest — in 1942

The only time during World War II when Japanese forces bombed the American mainland occurred in 1942. They loaded a small airplane with two incendiary bombs, launched it from a submarine off the Oregon coast, and tried to set the state on fire. It did not work out too well for the Japanese. Apparently there was no wildland Fire Behavior Analyst on the submarine’s crew.

Here is an excerpt from an article at DVICE:

…[From his lookout tower Keith] Johnson didn’t see the submarine as it surfaced. The boat creaked as its bow broke through the waves to the surface of the Pacific Ocean. A loud bell gave the “all clear” for the men to spring into action. On board that I-25 submarine was a single engine Yokosuki E14Y aircraft. This small, two passenger float plane was compact enough to store in a submarine but had enough power in its nine cylinder 340 hp radial engine to carry bombs on light attack missions. A team of men rolled the plane out its hangar that stood next to the conning tower, unfolded its wings and tail, then loaded two 176 pound incendiary bombs underneath its wings…


But when the fog lifted [Howard] Gardner saw smoke. He called for help then set off towards the fire, which he assumed was a remnant from a lightning strike fire that had sparked the previous day. What he and his men found was a smoldering fire covering a circular area 50 to 75 feet across. They quickly got the fire under control and found a crater about three feet in diameter and about one foot deep at the centre of the site. Inside was evidence of intense heat, hot enough to fuse earth and rocks.

Sky lanterns banned in California county

We have written about sky lanterns or fire balloons several times, including the legislation being considered in Oregon to ban these devices which can start fires in structures and the wildland.

Here is an excerpt from The Tribune about a county in southern California prohibiting them under most conditions:

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday passed an ordinance prohibiting the ignition and launching of sky lanterns in the county areas outside the incorporated cities and fire districts. The ordinance goes into effect in 30 days.

A sky lantern — an airborne paper lantern sometimes called a “Chinese lantern” — is similar to a miniature hot air balloon. It is powered by a fuel cell or candle that heats the air, fills the balloon and makes the lantern fly up into the sky.

“What seems harmless is not, and these lanterns pose a serious threat to the citizens, property, and wildland areas of San Luis Obispo County,” said Cal Fire Chief Rob Lewin.


UPDATE at 9:14 p.m. MT, May 8, 2013:

After posting the above about the sky lanterns, we heard from Dietra A. Myers Tremblay who is studying Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance at the University of Hawaii. She said:

In regards to your May 8, 2013 Wildfire Briefing on sky lanterns, in 2012, Hawaii enacted a state law that prohibits the sale, offer for sale, distribution, possession, ignition, or other use of aerial luminaries also known as sky lanterns, Hawaii lanterns, and flying luminaries.

A link to Section 132-19, Hawaii Revised Statutes. And here is another useful link to the bill status.


NWCG publishes course revision status

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group has published the revision status of some of their courses. Here is a screen grab from a portion of the document (click on it to see a larger version):

NWCG course revision status, May, 2013

Fire truck runs over firefighter dressed as a bear

The article in the North Devon Journal in the United Kingdom does not mention Smokey Bear:

A firefighter dressed as a bear was run over by a fire engine during Torrington Carnival on Saturday night.

Justin Matthews, landlord at the Cavalier Inn in Well Street, was taking part in the town’s annual carnival when the incident happened at around 7pm.

Mr Matthews, who is a retained firefighter, was walking in front of the fire engine when he got caught up in the wheel of the vehicle.

The incident happened as the carnival was making its way around the roundabout next to Torrington Cottage Hospital at the top of Calf Street.

The procession was stopped while ambulance crews treated the firefighter at the scene.

Ellen Vernon, who lives in Torrington, said there was “horror” among the crowd as everyone realised what had happened.

Fire Aviation news

Check out the latest news about Fire Aviation:


Thanks go out to Kelly and Kirk.

Wildfire briefing, May 5, 2013

Michigan woman found dead in wildfire

From the Milan News-Leader in Milan, Michigan:

The 76-year-old London Township woman found dead Wednesday afternoon from a fire in a wooded area was trying to get away when she was trapped by a fence. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office has identified her as Anna Eliva Pinto, a resident of 10460 Darling Road. Investigators believe she was burning brush when the fire grew out of control and she was unable to escape it.

Firefighters worked several hours to extinguish the fire that affected an area of 5-7 acres. Milan Fire Chief Robert Stevens said fire suppression efforts were well underway when a Milan firefighter found the deceased woman by a 6-foot fence that separates properties in the eastern side of the area.

Chief Deputy John Plath with the sheriff’s office said investigators believe Pinto was trying to walk or run to the east and was stopped by the fence. She was overcome by smoke and flames, he said. She suffered some burns but the cause of death has not yet been determined, he said. He said it is possible smoke inhalation or other medical issues could have contributed to her death.

Animation of satellite images of smoke from the Springs Fire northwest of Los Angeles

The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies put together an animation using still images from a GOES weather satellite which shows the evolution of smoke from the Springs Fire which has burned about 28,000 acres. Check it out at this Discover Magazine web site… then scroll down until you see the “Click to Play” video.

More information about the Springs Fire at Wildfire Today.

Springs Fire narrated slide show

A narrated slide show of photographs of the Springs Fire is very much worth two minutes of your time.  It features photos taken by Los Angeles Times photographers.

When to activate military air tankers

There is an ongoing discussion about military air tankers vs. commercial air tankers in the comments below our article about the activation of two California National Guard C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) air tankers. Some questioned using government resources when the services should be provided by private companies. The Economy Act of 1932 is frequently referenced during similar conversations, since it specifies the conditions under which a federal government agency can contract for services from another government agency.

The following is an excerpt from an article at the Department of Commerce:

The Economy Act of 1932, as amended, 31 U.S.C. § 1535, permits Federal Government agencies to purchase goods or services from other Federal Government agencies. An Economy Act purchase is permitted only if … the ordered goods or services cannot be provided by contract from a commercial enterprise, i.e., the private sector, as conveniently or cheaply as could be by the Government…

The interpretation of this as to how it applies to using military air tankers could get complicated if the requesting agency, i.e., U. S. Forest Service, makes a determination, honestly and without bias, about the existing need for air tankers. For 10 years the leaders of the USFS and the Department of Agriculture have been saying they have plenty of resources to fight wildfires, in spite of continuing budget reductions and increasing numbers of acres burned. In 2012 they were comfortable with 11, and later 9, large air tankers, even though some of the 7 air tanker studies they commissioned since 1996 have recommended 35 or more. And even though we had 44 in 2002.

Fast, aggressive, initial attack on new fires is necessary to reduce the number of fires that become megafires. This can save taxpayers money, and save lives as well. (Last year in Colorado six people died in wildfires.) Even if all of the 8, or later this year possibly 15, federal air tankers are not at the moment committed to ongoing fires, how many air tankers should we actually have standing by, ready for fast, aggressive initial attack? If they are all committed to fires, that would leave none, and that’s not an intelligent strategy.

If we actually need 25 or 35 or 45 large air tankers for ongoing fires and for initial attack, having only 8 or 15 on contract could continually justify implementing the Economy Act of 1932 to hire the 8 military MAFFS air tankers. But of course that is not feasible… or smart.

The logical strategy is to adequately fund a viable fleet of 25 to 45 modern, safe, large, very large, and scooper air tankers, consisting of an assortment of sizes and capabilities.

And the usual disclaimer: air tankers don’t put out fires. Under the right conditions, they can slow them down, allowing ground-based firefighters the opportunity to extinguish them. A drop from a helicopter or air tanker is usually only effective if it can be followed up by personnel on the ground.

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.