Video of the BAe-146 jet air tanker dropping on Whitewater-Baldy fire

Here is the description that the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team posted with the video on May 30, which is titled Tanker 40-Bae-146 Retardant Drop Whitewater-Baldy Fire:

Air Tanker puts down a line of fire retardant on Whitewater-Baldy Fire off of the 141 road. This drop was to help pretreat the north side of the road so fire crews could do their burn out on the south side of the road.

It’s not a great shot of the air tanker, but if you look carefully you can see two engines hanging below the right wing, which indicates that it IS the BAe-146 jet-powered Tanker 40.

I noticed that the lead plane was louder than the air tanker, which is very unusual — much less noisy than tankers with huge radial piston engines. BAe-146s are known for their relatively quiet operation, which enables the airliner to fly into some noise-restricted airports when others can’t.

Another thing I noticed was that the pilots were extremely accurate with their drop, placing the retardant right on the edge of the road, probably exactly where the firefighters wanted it.

Here is a bonus video from the Whitewater-Baldy fire, also posted by the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team. It was shot in the same general area, on the northeast side of the fire along Forest Road 141, May 28, 2012.

The Guardian writes about budget cuts and the Whitewater-Baldy fire

Whitewater-Baldy fire, May 28, 2012
Mt. Taylor Hot Shots burning out on the Whitewater-Baldy fire along Forest Road 141, May 28, 2012. USFS photo by Steven Meister, Mt. Taylor Hot Shots.

The Guardian is a newspaper based in the United Kingdom, but they also have a substantial presence in the United States. One of their Washington D.C. based reporters, Suzanne Goldenberg, published two articles today about wildfires in the U.S., and specifically the Whitewater-Baldy fire, which at over 216,000 acres has blasted through the record set last year by the Las Conchas fire for the largest in the recorded history of New Mexico. Ms. Goldenberg’s articles are well-researched and written, and are worth reading, in spite of one particular quote. She obviously talked with actual firefighters on the ground, as well as some folks that you will recognize that are sitting comfortably hundreds of miles away from the fire.

The first article concentrates on the declining budgets of the land management agencies that are involved with fire management. The second covers the Whitewater-Baldy fire, mega-fires, and stories from locals and firefighters, including the first firefighters to rappel into the fire.

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the first article:

Fire experts are warning that $512m in congressional budget cuts could leave communities dangerously exposed in an early and active fire season.

Such warnings have sharpened with the early onset of this year’s fire season, and the record-setting outbreak in New Mexico.

Experts fear the shortfall will leave fire crews scrambling for resources, and force government agencies to dip into other non-fire budgets to cover the gap.

“A person has to wonder. Is this going to be the new norm – frequent record-setting fires, while the number of federal firefighters and air tankers continue to shrink?” wrote Bill Gabbert, a former fire management officer in the Black Hills of South Dakota who now runs the blog

A strategic review in 2009 warned the government to step up its fire fighting capabilities to deal with an escalating rise in wildfires, covering up to 12m acres of terrain each year. “The current budget environment for federal and partner fire management is at best uncertain and difficult,” the review said.

It noted government agencies had already over-shot their budgets five years in a row, because of escalating wildfires.

But the economic downturn and a Congress dominated by Republicans who want to shrink the role of government make it extremely complicated to divert more funds to forest fighting.

Instead, funding for preventing and putting out wildfires has fallen by $512m, or about 15%, since 2010.

Join Ms. Goldenberg from the Guardian and myself on June 4 when we co-host a live web chat about wildfires. More information can be found HERE.

New Mexico fire becomes largest in state history

Whitewater-Baldy torching, May 28, 2012
Whitewater-Baldy, May 28, 2012. USFS photo

The Whitewater-Baldy fire grew by another 18,000 acres yesterday to 170,272 acres, becoming the largest in the recorded history of New Mexico, surpassing last year’s Las Conchas fire which blackened 156,593 acres. The Wallow fire last year was the largest in Arizona history. It burned 538,049 acres and destroyed 32 residences.

A person has to wonder. Is this going to be the new norm — frequent record-setting fires, while the number of federal firefighters and air tankers continue to shrink?

Firefighters faced challenges during firing operations on Whitewater-Baldy fire

Whitewater-Baldy fire, 4 pm, May 29, Andrea Martinez, USFS
Whitewater-Baldy fire, east of Glenwood, NM, 4 pm, May 29. Photo by Andrea Martinez, USFS

Firefighters on the Whitewater-Baldy found themselves conducting firing operations (burnouts or backfires) with the relative humidity as low as two percent and wind gusts up to 26 mph on Tuesday. One of the firing operations on the 152,000-acre blaze was on the northeast side of the fire where firefighters battled extreme fire behavior with spot fires occurring up to one mile ahead of the fire. The Incident Management Team reported that the Probability of Ignition today was 100%. That is, according to weather conditions and fire behavior models, if a firebrand landed in receptive fuels (vegetation) there was a 100 percent probability that it would start a new fire. Firefighters who were directed to ignite burnouts or backfires under those conditions deserve a raise. There were multiple spot fires across Forest Road 141, with one of them growing to 20 acres, but remarkably they were all suppressed by firefighters, engines, a dozer, and two air tankers. Neptune’s Tanker 40, the BAe-146 jet, was one of the air tankers used on the fire today. A big pat on the back goes out to those folks who did great work under interesting conditions.

Other aircraft on the fire included twelve helicopters: three Type 1 (the largest helicopters), four Type 2, and five Type 3.

IR plane, N144Z
N144Z, USFS Infrared Aircraft

A U.S. Forest Service fixed wing infrared imaging airplane, N144Z, a Cessna Citation jet, has been mapping the fire during the night for the last several nights providing accurate information about the location of the fire perimeter and the extent and intensity of heat sources across the fire. The data is digitized and transmitted via radio from the aircraft immediately after it is collected and ends up in internet servers on the ground . Then an Infrared Analyst, who can be located anyplace where there is a computer with internet access and ESRI software, interprets the imagery and sends it to the Situation Unit on the fire. When everything works perfectly, they will receive it with enough lead time to produce maps that are used for the morning briefing and the Incident Action Plan.

Flight of N144Z, May 28-29
Flight of N144Z, May 28-29

The map to the right shows the flight of N144Z  between 10:38 p.m. May 28, and 1:09 a.m. May 29. It departed from Phoenix, mapped the Gladiator and Whitewater-Baldy fires, then landed at Farmington, New Mexico for fuel. Then it mapped one or two fires in Colorado before heading for home at Ogden, Utah.

The satellite photo below, taken at 7:40 p.m. today, which we helpfully annotated for your viewing pleasure, shows the smoke that was generated by the extreme fire behavior on the Whitewater-Baldy fire today.

Smoke Whitewater-Baldy fire 740 pm MDT May 29, 2012
Smoke Whitewater-Baldy fire 7:40 p.m. MDT, May 29, 2012

You can compare the actual trajectory of the smoke with the projections created by computer models below. Each line is a 24-hour period, beginning at noon local time. The tic-marks on the lines are six hours apart.

Smoke projection for Whitewater-Baldy fire, May 29, 2012
Smoke projection for Whitewater-Baldy fire, May 29, 2012

West wind blows Whitewater-Baldy fire smoke across NM toward TX

Smoke Whitewater-Baldy fire 740 pm MDT May 28, 2012

On Monday afternoon a 9 to 12 mph west wind, gusting up to 22 mph, blew the smoke created by the Whitewater-Baldy fire east across New Mexico, headed toward Texas. The satellite photo above was taken at 7:40 p.m. MDT, May 28.

Smoke map - 742 pm MDT, May 28, 2012
Smoke map - 742 pm MDT, May 28, 2012

You can compare this with the models from Monday morning which predicted the direction the smoke would take. A higher resolution version of the map below can be found HERE.

Smoke projection for Whitewater-Baldy fire, May 28, 2012
Smoke projection for Whitewater-Baldy fire, May 28, 2012

Very low humidity and calmer winds affect Whitewater-Baldy fire In New Mexico

Whitewater-Baldy fire and an old fire scar, May 22. InciWeb photo
Whitewater-Baldy fire and an old fire scar, May 22. InciWeb photo

UPDATE at 8:32 p.m. MDT, May 28, 2012

We checked with Jerry Perry, a spokesperson for the Incident Management Team at the fire and received some updated information. Mr. Perry said burnout operations occurred in two locations on Monday, near the ghost town of Mogollon to help protect that community, and an area south of Mogollon where the spread of the fire dictated that a burnout needed to be executed in order to keep the fire from moving into unwanted areas.

The fire started on May 16 and the Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command on May 26. The number of resources working on the fire has increased very slowly.

On Sunday there were five helicopters assigned, none of them Type 1 (the largest), according to Mr. Perry. On Monday there were nine helicopters: three Type 1, two Type 2, and three Type 3. These are small numbers of aircraft for a monster-sized fire. There were no air tankers working the 133,000-acre fire on Monday, because, according to Mr. Perry, “the terrain was not suitable for air tankers”.

The number of personnel assigned to the fire has increased to 1,112 and there are a total of 27 hand crews and 49 engines.


Usually firefighters can count on “humidity recovery” during the night to slow the spread of wildfires. That higher humidity, usually increasing by several tens of percent, is absorbed by the vegetation and affects how fast a fire burns. Sunday night and early Monday morning, the relative humidity at the Mogollon weather station near the Whitewater-Baldy fire was between three and seven percent — extremely low. As the sun started to come up it began increasing and was at ten percent at 9:13 a.m. MDT; still very low.

Weather at Mogollon May 28, 2012
Weather at Mogollon, May 27 to 28, 2012

The forecast for Monday at Glenwood, NM just west of the Whitewater-Baldy fire calls for the humidity to decrease again to around five percent and the winds will be from the southwest at 7 to 14 mph. The calmer winds will make it possible for helicopters and air tankers to support the firefighters with retardant and water drops. But the very low humidity and moderate winds should still encourage significant fire spread and smoke production.

Whitewater-Baldy fire 1140 pm MDT May 27, 2012
Map of the Whitewater-Baldy fire in New Mexico, showing heat detected by satellites at 11:40 p.m. MDT May 27, 2012. The red and orange areas burned in the previous 24 hours.

On Sunday the fire grew by another 10,000 acres, bringing the total to about 133,000 acres. Firefighters took advantage of the calmer winds to do some burning out at the end of the long finger of fire on the northeast side, along Forest Road 141/Reserve Beaverhead Road near the Negrito Airstrip. If they can stop the fire in this area, it will be a step toward keeping the fire out of some more difficult terrain.

Almost all of the fire perimeter showed new growth on Sunday and officially the fire is zero percent contained. On Monday firefighters plan to conduct a burnout operation to help protect the ghost town of Mogollon, and will continue to burnout along Forest Road 141.

Below is something you don’t see produced by every Incident Management Team, a map showing the projected path of smoke from the Whitewater-Baldy Complex for May 28. Areas around Albuquerque, Belen, Socorro, Magdalena and Carrizozo will see smoke through the day, if the projections are correct. A higher resolution version of the map can be found HERE.

Smoke projection for Whitewater-Baldy fire, May 28, 2012