Oak Fire slows, but still spreads into footprint of 2018 Ferguson Fire

CAL FIRE is using one of their new Firehawk helicopters to drop water at night

 7:05 a.m. PDT July 26, 2022

Oak Fire map 7:27 p.m. July 25, 2022
Oak Fire map. The red line was the perimeter at 7:27 p.m. July 25, 2022. The white line was the perimeter about 23 hours before.

Fire officials called Monday a successful day on the Oak Fire northwest of Mariposa, California, saying there was minimal growth. The 1,200 acres added paled in comparison to the rapid spread seen on Friday and Saturday. It was mapped Monday night at 18,017 acres, with most of the increase being on the east side where it is chewing through the four-year old vegetation in the footprint of the 2018 Ferguson Fire. East of Jerseydale it has advanced nearly two miles into the fire scar.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Oak Fire, including the most recent, click HERE.

Helicopters dropped 300,000 gallons of water Monday, including thousands of gallons dropped by one of CAL FIRE’s new night-flying helicopters, H-903, normally based at McClellan near Sacramento. According to tracking data recorded by FlightAware it conducted what appeared to be two fuel cycles working out of the Columbia airport 42 miles northwest of the Oak Fire. Until CAL FIRE recently purchased their 12 new Sikorsky S-70i Firehawk helicopters they were not in the night-flying business. This was one of the first fires CAL FIRE has flown at night.

CAL FIRE H-903, Sikorsky S-70i FireHawk
CAL FIRE H-903, Sikorsky S-70i FireHawk, N483DF, Photo by Dylan Phelps, Sept. 2020.

The damage assessment team has been working for the last two days to identify structures affected by the fire. Monday afternoon their findings to date were released — 21 residences and 34 outbuildings have been destroyed.

Resources on the incident Monday night included 24 helicopters, 302 fire engines, 82 dozers, 68 water tenders, and 61 hand crews for a total of 2,991 personnel.

A weather station recorded strong winds as air tanker crashed on Kruger Rock Fire

Pilot Marc Thor Olson was killed

1:59 p.m. MST Nov. 18, 2021

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

Weather data from Estes Park RAWS, ESPC2
Weather data from Estes Park RAWS, ESPC2. The last observation shown is at 2224 MST Nov. 16, 2021. The observations at the arrows were 12 minutes before the last detected location of the aircraft.

Around the time Single Engine Air Tanker 860 crashed at the Kruger Rock Fire in Colorado at approximately 6:36 p.m. MST on November 16, killing pilot Marc Thor Olson, the Estes Park ESPC2 Remote Automatic Weather Station recorded sustained winds of 13 mph gusting to 32 mph out of the west. The station is 3.7 miles northwest of the fire at 7,892 feet and its anemometer is 20 feet above the ground.

N802NZ, last 10 minutes of flight tracking data
N802NZ, last 10 minutes of flight tracking data, Nov. 16, 2021. FlightAware.

Looking at the flight tracking log from FlightAware above, the wind appeared to be much stronger at the plane’s altitude, which was 8,950 to 10,450 feet while it was over the fire. The highest peak just south of the fire is at 9,400 feet.

Map of the Krueger Rock Fire
Map of the Krueger Rock Fire, Nov. 17, 2021. Colorado’s Multi-Mission aircraft and crew.

As it made four orbits near the fire during the 10 minutes it was in the area, the ground speed of T-860, an Air Tractor 802A (N802NZ) varied from a low of 82 mph while flying west to a maximum of 200 mph when east-bound. These shifts in ground speed were consistent during all four orbits. This indicates a very strong wind out of the west, a direction that is consistent with the data from the weather station.

The last flight of Tanker 860 N802NZ
The last flight of Tanker 860, N802NZ. The flight originated at Northern Colorado Regional Airport. FlightAware. Note that the times are in CST.

There are two reasons that fixed wing air tankers avoid attacking wildfires during strong winds. One, the wind makes it difficult or impossible for the retardant to hit the target, getting blown horizontally as it falls from the aircraft to the ground. Second, flying low and slow, as air tankers have to do, is difficult in mountainous terrain with calm winds, but it can be extremely hazardous during strong winds.

When you add a third complexity of dropping at night using night vision goggles, something that has been done very little in the history of aviation, and never before in Colorado, the pilot had the deck stacked against him. The chances of stopping or slowing the spread of the fire with retardant, water, or any other suppresant, were very, very slim. (There is a report that the operator of the aircraft, CO Fire Aviation, experimented with night drops in Oregon in 2020 and 2021.)

The weather forecast available from the National Weather Service that Tuesday afternoon called for continued very strong winds until sundown and a chance for snow Tuesday night. It predicted dry weather on Wednesday and Thursday with high temperatures in the 30s and 40s under mostly sunny skies with the relative humidity around 20 percent. The wind chill was expected to be below zero from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday afternoon. The actual low temperature Tuesday night turned out to be 11 degrees.

Risk vs. reward

With 20/20 hindsight looking at risk vs. reward, this was a very high risk mission. The potential reward was little, considering the likely effectiveness of 700 gallons of suppressant blown off target by strong winds and the weather forecast of a chance of snow in a matter of hours and wind chills the next day below zero.

Who decided to attempt the night flight?

The short answer is, the Larimer County Sheriff’s office ordered the aircraft to respond to the fire, using a “verbal call when needed contract”, an arrangement that was first agreed to on October 5, 2021.

A preliminary map appears to show that the fire was just inside the boundary of the Roosevelt National Forest. The Larimer County Sheriff’s office said on Wednesday Nov. 17 that as of 7 a.m. that day the fire was being managed by a unified command with the US Forest Service and the Sheriff.

In Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming the local county sheriffs are given the responsibility for suppressing wildfires outside of cities unless they are on federal land. The Kruger Rock Fire was in Larimer County.

As Wildfire Today reported November 16, before the fatal flight, T-860 departed from the Fort Morgan, Colorado airport, orbited the fire about half a dozen times, then landed at Northern Colorado Regional Airport at 4:38 p.m. MST. This flight is listed in the image from FlightAware above as one of two flights that day for the aircraft. It turns out that on the first flight it dropped water on the fire, which the pilot reportedly described as “successful”. After it landed at Northern Colorado Regional Airport it reloaded with “fire suppressant” instead of water, and by 6:13 p.m. MST was airborne returning to the fire.

Sunset that day was at 4:44 p.m. MST. The air tanker disappeared from tracking at 6:35 p.m., about 1 hour and 49 minutes after sunset. Air tankers working for the U.S. federal government are allowed to drop only as late as 30 minutes after official sunset.

The Denver Post reported that CO Fire Aviation said in a statement, “There was no aerial supervision or lead plane required for the mission and weather and wind conditions were reported to be within limits of our company standard operating procedures.”

In the video below Juan Browne has strong feelings about this incident. Shortly after posting it, he wrote a comment saying, “GROUNDSPEED NOT AIRSPEED!”

Below is an excerpt from a statement released November 17, 2021 by the Larimer County Sheriff’s office:

Continue reading “A weather station recorded strong winds as air tanker crashed on Kruger Rock Fire”

Night-flying air tanker crashes while working on wildfire in Colorado

The pilot was killed

Updated at 4:56 p.m. MST Nov. 17, 2021

Wednesday afternoon CO Fire Aviation released a statement that identified the pilot who was killed Nov. 16 during a night-flying air tanker mission on the Kruger Rock Fire southeast of Estes Park, Colorado.

The CO Fire Aviation family is deeply saddened by the sudden, tragic loss of one of our brothers serving as a tanker pilot. Marc Thor Olson was a highly decorated veteran of both the Army and Air Force with 32 years of service to our country. During Thor’s 42 years of flight, he had amassed more than 8,000 total flight hours with an impressive 1,000 hours of NVG flight including in combat and civilian flight.

Co Fire maintains a close working relationship with multi regulatory agencies and is fully cooperating with the proper authorities and partners during this investigation.

While we are gravely aware of the inherent dangers of aerial fire fighting and the questions that remain; we ask that family and friends be given distance and time to process and heal as we grieve this loss. Your prayers are appreciated during this difficult time.

A preliminary map appears to show that the fire was just inside the boundary of the Roosevelt National Forest. The Larimer County Sheriff’s office said on Wednesday that as of 7 a.m. Wednesday the fire was managed by a unified command with the US Forest Service and the Sheriff. In Colorado the local county sheriffs are given the responsibility for suppressing wildfires outside of cities unless they are on federal land.

Map, Kruger Rock Fire
The map shows the approximate location of the Kruger Rock Fire. It is based heat detected by satellites as late as 1:40 p.m. MST Nov. 16, 2021. Clouds degraded the ability of satellites to obtain good quality data.

The crash occurred at about 6:35 p.m MST on Tuesday Nov. 16 while attempting to suppress the fire. This was about 1 hour and 49 minutes after sunset, and was the first time a fixed wing air tanker had dropped fire suppressant on a fire at night in Colorado.

11:29 p.m. MST Nov. 16, 2021

AT-802F single engine air tanker
File photo of the aircraft that crashed November 16, 2021. Air Tractor AT-802A, N802NZ, owned by CO Fire Aviation. Photo by Aviation Specialties Unlimited September, 2018.

An air tanker that was working the Kruger Rock Fire southeast of Estes Park, Colorado Tuesday night November 16 crashed, killing the pilot, the only person on board. The Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) had taken off from Northern Colorado Regional Airport, formerly known as the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport, at 6:13 p.m. MST Nov. 16 and disappeared from flight tracking 22 minutes later at 6:35 p.m. MST. Earlier in the day it departed from the Fort Morgan, Colorado airport, orbited the fire about half a dozen times, then landed at Northern Colorado Regional Airport at 4:38 p.m. MST.

The incident was first reported by KUSA, 9News in Denver. Marc Sallinger, reporter for the station, had interviewed the pilot earlier in the day, and wrote on Twitter, “My thoughts and prayers are with the pilot who took off tonight, so excited for this history-making flight. He told me ‘this is the culmination of 5 years of hard work.’ He showed me his night vision goggles and how they worked. He was so kind. Holding out hope for him.”

Eyewitnesses reported the crash at approximately 6:37 p.m., but in the dark it was very difficult to pinpoint the location. After three hours of searching, firefighters found it near the south end of Hermit Park. Unfortunately the pilot was deceased.

The aircraft was an Air Tractor 802A, registration number N802NZ, owned by CO Fire Aviation. In 2018 we wrote about the company’s efforts to configure this aircraft for fighting fires at night. Helicopters have been doing it off and on for decades, but a fixed wing air tanker dropping retardant on a fire at night is extremely rare. In 2020 and 2021 CO Fire Aviation had one of their SEATs working on a night-flying contract in Oregon. The company says they are the only operators of night-flying fixed wing air tankers.

Earlier this year a video was posted on YouTube that featured CO Fire Aviation conducting a night-flying demonstration at Loveland, Colorado. That segment begins at 8:15 in the video.

At 6 p.m. the Larimer County Sheriff’s office said the Kruger Rock Fire had burned about 133 acres. More information about the fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the pilot’s family, friends, and coworkers.

The article was edited to show that the crash was first reported by KUSA, 9News in Denver.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Wildfire briefing, December 18, 2014

Possible wildfire suppression scam

From the Rapid City Fire Department:

Scam Alert: Investigators for the RCPD would like to inform the public of a possible scam targeting local businesses. An individual has been soliciting donations for an organization called ‘Atta Katta Wildland Fire Suppression.’ The Rapid City Police Department has reason to believe that this organization is fraudulent. If you’ve been solicited for a donation to this organization, please contact Sgt. Warren Poches at 394.4134.

Moonlight fire scandal continues to grow

The accusations of prosecutorial abuse, fraud, and government coverups related to the 2007 Moonlight Fire in northern California are gathering more nationwide attention. Here is how an article by Kathleen Parker begins:

First there’s the spark, then the conflagration, followed by the litigation and then, surely, the movie. Call it “Moonlight Fire,” and prepare to suspend disbelief. The story is a doozy — a tale of corruption, prosecutorial abuse, alleged fraud upon the court, and possible government cover-ups in the service of power and greed. All the script needs is a Forest Service employee urinating on his bare feet in his lookout tower just as the fire was beginning.


This is what a real-life ranger discovered when she went to the tower to pick up a radio for repair. She also reported spotting a small glass pipe and smelling marijuana. As for the urinary exercise, the lookout said he was treating his athlete’s foot. But of course.

So goes one of the more colorful anecdotes surrounding the 2007 California wildfire that burned up to 65,000 acres — 45,000 of them on federal land — in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains…

Jonathan Keim also wrote about the debacle for the National Review.

Articles at Wildfire Today tagged Moonlight Fire.

Study on the Rim Fire recommends more interagency prescribed fires

Excerpts from an article a KSBW:

A fierce wildfire that scorched part of Yosemite National Park burned less intensely in places that had fires in recent years – a finding that researchers said Wednesday supports a belief that controlled burning often curtails extreme fires.

The U.S. Forest Service study focused on areas of the Rim Fire that burned 400 square miles in Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite’s backcountry and private timber land.

It was the largest fire in the recorded history of the Sierra Nevada. It destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.

Areas hit by the Rim Fire within Yosemite had burned within 14 years and experienced less intense flames, said U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, which authored the study.

Researchers recommend that forestry agencies with shared borders and interests combine their efforts to conduct controlled burns during moderate weather conditions, giving them the best chance for to avoid massive high-intensity fires.

Night flying helicopters in southern California

An article at The Coast News reports on the two night-flying helicopters operated by the city of San Diego.

10-year high for people charged with lighting fires in Victoria

From The Age in Australia:

The number of charges for lighting fires on days of total fire ban or during bushfire danger periods has reached a 10-year high, as police crack down on the foolishness that has sparked destructive blazes since Black Saturday.

There were 227 charges for lighting a fire on a total fire ban day or in a fire danger period last year, an increase of more than 17 per cent compared to the previous year and more than five times the number recorded in 2010-11.

While most of the fires raging in Victoria this week are believed to have started because of lightning strikes, Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said some of the 350 blazes burning on Wednesday would have been caused by people ignoring the volatile conditions.

“It wouldn’t all be lightning. There would have been some foolish behaviour…

Homes burn in Victoria bushfire

Four homes burned in a bushfire in the Creighton’s Creek area of Victoria. State Control Centre spokesperson Leigh Miezis said 1,500 firefighters are currently battling the blaze.

The video below was filmed by Jacob Haddrill in Creightons Creek. He saved his cattle but his feed and fencing was damaged in the fire.

California: some firefighters released from the Powerhouse Fire

(UPDATE at 6:40 a.m. PT, June 5, 2013)

Since the firefighters are wrapping up the Powerhouse fire north of Los Angeles, this will be the last update unless significant activity occurs.

Residents have been allowed back into all of the communities affected by the fire. Proof of residency is required to gain access behind the road closures. Future fire growth is expected to be minimal. Crews continue to complete line construction, patrol and mop-up. Excess fire resources are being demobilized so they can be ready to respond to other incidents.

  • Structures Destroyed: 16
  • Acres: 32,032
  • Containment: 65%
  • Estimated Cost: $11,400,000


(UPDATE at 3:25 p.m. PT, June 4, 2013)

Map of Powerhouse Fire, June 3, 2013
Map of Powerhouse Fire, 10:22 p.m. PT, June 3, 2013

Firefighters are beginning to get a better handle on the Powerhouse Fire north of Los Angeles. Fire spread was minimal overnight with only 24 acres being added. The majority of active fire is along Elizabeth Canyon and Hughes Lake Road northwest to Sawtooth Mountain.

Today crews continued to strengthen fire lines in the southern portion of the fire. Hand crews supported by air resources took advantage of opportunities to construct direct fireline on the west side of the fire. In the Sawtooth Mountain and Sawmill Mountain areas the fire has potential to spread. Fuels in the area have not burned since 1928.

The size is listed at 32,032 acres with 60 percent containment. Some of the resources assigned to the fire include: 2,034 personnel, 155 fire engines, 54 hand crews, 11 helicopters, 27 dozers, 8 air tankers, 33 water tenders. The total estimated cost to date is $8.7 million.

Residents have been allowed to return to the communities of Green Valley, Leona Valley, Elizabeth Lake and Lake Hughes. The evacuation order for the Fairmont area of Antelope Acres was lifted today at noon. Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake Canyon Roads remain closed.

Carlton Joseph’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire Monday at 6 p.m. The fire is being run under a unified command with the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and Los Angeles County. In addition to Mr. Joseph, the other Incident Commanders are Dave Richardson, John Tripp, and Phil Veneris.

Helitanker 718, Powerhouse Fire
Helitanker 718 getting water from Elizabeth Lake. Photo by Greg Cleveland.


(UPDATE at 5:48 a.m. PT, June 4, 2013)

There has been very little change in the fire perimeter of the Powerhouse Fire over the last 24 hours. Firefighters are cleaning up the fireline and burning out to remove fuels. We will post more details around the middle of the day today.


(UPDATE at 9:22 p.m. PT, June 3, 2013)

The Powerhouse fire is now listed at 32,008 acres and 60 percent containment. Today there were 2,185 personnel assigned to the fire. Higher humidities today slowed the spread of the fire, in spite of the strong winds.


(UPDATE at 11:43 a.m. PT, June 3, 2013)

The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory which includes the portion of the Powerhouse fire that has burned out into the Antelope Valley. This is not good news for firefighters. The winds are predicted to be out of the southwest at 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45. The area near the fire can expect gusts as high as 55 mph. The strongest winds will occur Monday afternoon and evening. Similar conditions will likely redevelop Tuesday afternoon and evening.


(UPDATE at 8:38 a.m. PT, June 3, 2013; updated map added)

Map of the north end of the Powerhouse Fire
Map of the north end of the Powerhouse Fire, 12:55 a.m. June 3, 2013 (click to enlarge)

The Powerhouse Fire continued to spread across thousands of acres Sunday after burning around the communities of Lake Hughes and Elizabeth Lake. Firefighters protected hundreds of homes but six burned in the rapidly spreading fire.

Continue reading “California: some firefighters released from the Powerhouse Fire”

CAL FIRE installing hoists on helicopters

Fighting wildland fires can be a dangerous job. One of the most difficult challenges is providing treatment to an injured firefighter during that first “golden hour” if an accident occurs in a remote location.

The California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection is taking a step to speed the transfer of a patient from the fireline to a hospital by installing hoist systems on their 11 firefighting helicopters. They recently completed the first round of training on the new systems at the CAL FIRE academy at Ione. Some of the hoists have already been installed and all 11 should be ready to go by the end of the year.

This is a great step in the right direction and may save firefighters’ lives if they suffer an injury during daylight hours.

Currently there are no CAL FIRE or U.S. Forest Service helicopters that can fly at night. The USFS is going to tip toe into night flying operations again next year by contracting for one helicopter with that capability. It is unknown if it will have a hoist.

The USFS was criticized for not taking advantage of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s night flying helicopters during the first night after the Station Fire started near Los Angeles in 2009. The fire was three to four acres at 7 a.m. on the second day, but no helicopters were used the first night. The fire took off at mid-morning on day two and later burned 160,000 acres, killing two firefighters.

There were accusations that the USFS employed a less than aggressive attack on the Station fire in an effort to save money. If that was their strategy, it failed. A GAO review estimated the cost of suppressing the Station Fire to be $93 million, placing it among the most costly fires in the nation’s history. This does not include the costs of rebuilding the 89 homes that burned in the fire which may have been another $15 to $35 million.
Thanks go out to Eric