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