Wildfires kill three on Portugal’s Madeira Island; fires force thousands to evacuate on the mainland

Above: A Google Earth 3-D map of the Portuguese Island of Madeira, looking northwest.

(UPDATED at 7:25 a.m. MDT August 13, 2016)

The satellite image below from Friday August 12, shows fewer heat sources on Madeira and less smoke from the wildfires.

Madeira fires August 12, 2016
The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite over Madeira on August 12, 2016. Smoke can be seen drifting to the southeast. Click to enlarge.


(Originally published at 4:42 MDT August 2, 2016)

Wildfires on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira have taken the lives of three civilians and destroyed over 150 homes while firefighters on the mainland are battling nearly 200 blazes. The fire has reached Madeira’s largest city, Funchal, which has a population of 110,000.

Madeira has no firefighting aircraft. They sometimes borrow CL-215’s, CL-415’s, (both are water-scooping air tankers) and Polish SOKOL helicopters from the Canary Islands 280 miles to the south.

Italy and Morocco have sent a total of three firefighting aircraft across the ocean to help control the fires. Russia has dispatched two Be-200 water-scooping air tankers, which last operated in Portugal in 2006.

Map of fires on Madeira
The red dots on the photo of Madeira represent heat detected by a NASA satellite on August 10, 2016. Smoke can be seen drifting off to the southwest.

Madeira is in the north Atlantic, 530 miles southwest of Portugal. The terrain on the popular tourist island is very steep which no doubt presents a challenging environment for firefighters.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times:

…The fire caused chaos, panic and despair around Funchal. Portuguese television showed elderly people, many of them barefoot or in wheelchairs, being escorted to safety in the middle of the night by emergency services or neighbors. Residents watched in tears as their homes burned down, and some were seen running around helplessly, trying to cover their faces to minimize smoke inhalation…

The four images in the tweet below are very impressive.

This video, uploaded today, was shot from a cable car as it travelled over areas affected by the fire. It’s a little long at 18 minutes, but if you skip around it gives an overview of some of the effects of the fire.

Update on large air tankers, including the USFS C-130’s

This article was first published on FireAviation.com August 11, 2016.

Ten additional air tankers brought on temporarily

In the last few weeks the U.S. Forest Service has brought on ten additional air tankers on a temporary basis. This includes CL-415 water-scoopers, CV-580’s, and Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130’s. Two of the aircraft were acquired through Call When Needed (CWN) agreements; four via agreements with Alaska and Canada; two MAFFS through an agreement with the Department of Defense; and two water scoopers through other contracts.


The U.S. Forest Service expects to have two HC-130H aircraft at McClellan Air Field in September. These are part of the seven aircraft fleet of HC-130H’s that the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard.

Tanker 118, an HC-130H
Tanker 118, an HC-130H, at McClellan Airport. Photo by Jon Wright, July 25, 2015.

Last year one of the HC-130H’s worked out of McClellan using a MAFFS, a slip-in 3,000-gallon pressurized retardant system that pumps the liquid out the left side troop door. That was aircraft #1721 designated as Tanker 118, still painted in military colors. T-118 is now undergoing scheduled depot-level maintenance and should be replaced in September of this year by #1708 designated as Tanker 116. It will also use a slip-in MAFFS unit, one of the eight owned by the USFS, but should be sporting a new USFS air tanker paint job. After T-118 left, another former Coast Guard aircraft took its place, #1706. It is being used for training the contracted pilots and will not serve as an air tanker.

Early in 2015 the plan was to have two HC-130H’s at McClellan. One would be used as an air tanker, and the second would be used as a training platform. Below is a portion of that early 2015 plan which we covered February 9, 2015.

Forest Service C-130H schedule
The USFS plans in early 2015 for incorporating the seven HC-130H aircraft into a Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated fleet of air tankers. Click to enlarge.

Eventually the USFS hopes to have all seven converted to air tankers with removable retardant tanks. A contract for the installation of the retardant delivery systems was awarded to the Coulson Group in May. There is also much other work that has to be completed on the aircraft including programmed depot maintenance, painting, and wing box replacement on most of them. The work is being done or coordinated by the U.S. Air Force. They were directed by Congressional legislation to use their own funds, up to $130 million, so it is no surprise that the schedule keeps slipping as delays continue to occur in awarding contracts and scheduling the maintenance.

In 2014 Tom Tidwell, Chief of the USFS, said all seven aircraft would be completely converted by 2018. In early 2015 the USFS changed that to 2019. Now, a year and a half later, it’s anybody’s guess when or if this project that started in December of 2013 will be finished.


four CL-415 cody wy
Four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Some of them had been working the nearby Whit Fire and scooping out of Buffalo Bill Reservoir six miles from the fire. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

The USFS has two water-scooping CL-415 air tankers on exclusive use contract. As noted above they recently temporarily brought on two more on a call when needed basis. All four are operated by AeroFlite and as seen in the photo above were together at Cody last week.

Air Spray

There was some discussion in the comment section of another article on Fire Aviation about the status of the BAe-146 aircraft being converted to air tankers by Air Spray. The company has five of the 146’s; two are out of the country and the other three are at the company’s Chico, California facility. Ravi Saip, their Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told Fire Aviation that they expect to begin flight testing one of them in air tanker mode around the first of the year. After they receive a supplemental type certificate from the FAA, work on the second one would shift into high gear. Then conversion of the other three would begin.

Air Spray’s T-241 finishing its amphibious conversion at the Wipaire facility in Minnesota. Air Spray photo.

Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 single engine air tankers that they have purchased since 2014. Five of them have received the amphibious conversion by adding floats, and the other three are stock, restricted to wheels.

Air Spray’s Tanker 498, an L-188 Electra, is currently in Sacramento being inspected and carded by CAL FIRE so that it can be used in a Call When Needed capacity.

747 SuperTanker

Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, told us that the FAA has awarded a supplemental type certificate for their reborn 747 SuperTanker — a major and sometimes very difficult barrier to overcome. Within the next two weeks they expect to receive the airworthiness certificate.

air tanker 747 T-944 colorado springs
T-944 at Colorado Springs May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Beginning next week representatives from the USFS will observe some additional static tests and then there will be an airborne descent test, a new test added in 2013, releasing retardant in a downhill drop. That test was not required when Version 1.0 of the 747 was certified. It may have been added after it was discovered that the first BAe-146’s that were converted and issued contracts still retained hundreds of gallons of retardant after downhill runs.

These steps should take less than two weeks, Mr. Wheeler said, after which they will submit the results to the Interagency AirTanker Board.

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told Fire Aviation that the company was offered an opportunity to submit a proposal for a call when needed contract solicitation in 2015, along with numerous other companies, but declined to do so. Their next opportunity to obtain a contract will be when another general solicitation is issued in 2017, or perhaps sooner, Ms. Jones said. The agency issued a Request for Information a few weeks ago, which is usually followed some months later with an actual solicitation.

Judging from the list of CWN air tankers with contracts, apparently it is possible to submit a proposal and receive a USFS CWN contract even if the aircraft exists mostly on paper and could be years away from being FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board certified.

In the meantime Mr. Wheeler realizes that the USFS is not the only organization that hires air tankers and has been talking with a number of other agencies in various states and countries as well as companies involved in marine firefighting.

Global SuperTanker is in the process of finishing repairs on the 747 in Arizona after some of the composite flight control surfaces (flaps, spoilers, elevators) and engine cowlings were damaged by golf ball sized hail at Colorado Springs several weeks ago. There was no windscreen or fuselage damage.

Mr. Wheeler said that was the first severe hailstorm within the last seven years at the Colorado Springs airport. But, after the aircraft left to be repaired in Arizona a second hailstorm struck the airport that some have said was a 100-year event and did much more damage than the first one.

Permanent base for the HC-130H air tankers

On September 2, 2015 the USFS formally requested information from facilities that could support the seven-aircraft HC-130H fleet (Solicitation Number SN-2015-16), with responses due September 16. The agency was only asking for information from interested parties, and will not award a contract based on the Request for Information. A few politicians fell all over themselves arguing that the aircraft should be based in their state.

Since then no decisions have been made. Ms. Jones told Fire Aviation:

The U.S. Forest Service continues to cooperate with the Department of Defense to identify potential federal facilities, which must be considered first.

It is unlikely that more than one or two of the seven HC-130H’s would be at the new base at at any one time, except during the winter when they would not have to be dispersed around the country to be available for firefighting. While the base might not be a huge expansion of the aerial firefighting capabilities in an area, the stationing of the flight crews, maintenance, and administrative personnel would be a boost to the economy of a small or medium-sized city.

The spread of the Whit Fire west of Cody, WY slows

(UPDATED at 11:25 a.m. MDT August 5, 2016)

Whit Fire
Whit Fire August 3, 2016. Photo by Charlie Springer.

The Whit Fire 13 miles west of Cody, Wyoming was much less active Thursday than the day before. According to the aerial mapping during the last two nights it grew on the southwest and northeast sides by a total of several hundred acres, but the incident management team is still calling it 9,647 acres. The discrepancy could be related to issues with the imagery Wednesday night.

One home and seven outbuildings have been destroyed in the fire.

Whit Fire map
Map of the Whit Fire as detected by aerial mapping. The white line was the estimated perimeter at 10 p.m. MDT August 3, 2016. The red line was the perimeter at 12:30 a.m. MDT on August 5, 2016.

On Thursday two water-scooping air tankers, CL-415’s, were delighting tourists that were on US Highway 16 driving past the Buffalo Bill Reservoir on the way to Yellowstone National Park. The aircraft were skimming along the water surface loading about 1,600 gallons into their tanks and then flying to the fire, assisting firefighters by dropping water to slow the spread. The reservoir is only six miles from the fire, which enabled quick turnarounds.

CL-415 Buffalo Bill Reservoir
Air tanker 263, a CL-415, scoops water from the Buffalo Bill Reservoir at 8:01 p.m. MDT on August 4, 2016 while working the Whit Fire. 

At times the vehicles stopped on or near the roadway created a safety hazard. Kristie Salzmann, a spokesperson for the fire, said law enforcement is now actively discouraging that practice. There are other locations that can be used safely, including various locations in the state park, and the boat launch which is closed since no boaters are allowed on the lake while the scoopers are working. The same aircraft are expected to be assigned to the fire on Friday.

Whit Fire
Whit Fire August 3, 2016. InciWeb photo.

Todd Pechota’s Type 1 incident management team assumed command of the fire at 6 a.m. on Friday.

Continue reading “The spread of the Whit Fire west of Cody, WY slows”

Water scooping air tankers dropping on the Colby Fire

CL 415 on Colby Fire

Jeff Zimmerman was kind enough to send us these photos he took of CL-415 water-scooping air tankers dropping on the Colby Fire east of Los Angeles on January 16. The Canadian air tankers are leased every year during the fall by the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Their 2013 contract was scheduled to end in December, but was extended due to the extremely dry conditions in southern California.

You can see more of Jeff’s photography at his site. Thanks Jeff.

CL 415 on Colby Fire CL 415 on Colby Fire CL 415 on Colby Fire. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

More information about the Colby Fire.

Earlier we posted some extraordinary photos and videos of the CL-415s scooping water at Santa Fe Dam.

Additional photos and information about air tankers can be found at FireAviation.com

Manitoba adds 4 air tankers to their fleet

Polishing one of the new CL-415 air tankers in Manitoba. (screen grab from ChrisD204 video)

The Canadian province of Manitoba is adding four new scooper air tankers to their fleet. The Bombardier CL-415 tankers can carry about 1,620 gallons of water and cruises at 207 mph. According to the Canadians, a typical mission for a CL-415 on a large fire in Manitoba would last four hours and includes 80 drops, totaling 129,000 gallons.

During an announcement about the new aircraft, Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said:

With the new planes they are faster, the carry more water, and they drop double the number of bombs in an hour, in other words, they drop about 20 water bombs in an hour versus 12 with the old planes.

Gotta love the repeated references to the “bombs”.

The “old planes” Minister Mackintosh is referring to are the older CL-215s, which according to an article at the Winnipeg Free Press can make 12 drops per hour, flies at 160 mph, carries 1,412 gallons, totaling 67,776 gallons on a typical 4-hour mission.

For comparison, the large air tankers working the Fourmile Canyon fire west of Boulder, Colorado in September, 2010, where the retardant reload base was unusually close — 15 miles away — were dropping approximately 4,000 gallons per hour. The U.S. Forest Service’s fleet of 10 air tankers does not have any water scoopers or CL-215/415s on exclusive use contracts. The Department of Interior has had two for the last few years. The USFS currently has a Request for Proposal out for scooper air tankers, and may contract for some later this year. While water sources in the United States may not be as prolific as in much of Canada, it’s hard to continue to ignore an air tanker option that can deliver 32 times the number of gallons per hour onto a fire (4,000 vs. 32,000 gallons), comparing the best case scenarios for both scoopers and conventional large air tankers, such as a P2-V.