Firefighting aircraft on the Green Top Mountain Fire

Tim Crippin sent us these photos he took on the Green Top Mountain Fire on July 15th near Eagle Point, Oregon about 15 miles northeast of Medford. Started July 15 by lightning, it had burned about 120 acres by July 16.

Thanks Tim!

air tanker Green Top Mountain Fire helicopter Green Top Mountain Fire air tanker Green Top Mountain Fire

helicopter Green Top Mountain Fire

The first drops from the 737 air tanker

Above: One of the first test drops by a 737 air tanker, Coulson’s T-137. Photo by Jeremy Ulloa.

On July 13 the 737 that Coulson Aviation has been converting into an air tanker made its first drops. In this case it was a series of water drops by Tanker 137 while flying out of San Bernardino, California.

Britt Coulson said, “The 4,000 USG RADS-XXL/2 performed perfectly as did the airplane. Our flight crew couldn’t have been happier with the handling characteristics and our split tank worked as designed with no CG shift during the drop.”

Next week they will finish flight testing with the FAA, and will soon begin static tests of the tank system. They are working with the Forest Service to schedule the grid test.

Mr. Coulson expects Tanker 137 will be ready to fight fire in August.

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T-137. Photo by Jeremy Ulloa.
air tanker 137 737 fire
One of the first test drops by a 737 air tanker, Coulson’s T-137. Photo by Britt Coulson..

Firefighters on the Martin Fire say they have an innovative way to use air tankers

The Martin Fire has burned 425,000 acres in Northern Nevada

(Originally published on Wildfire Today)

When a wildfire reaches 100,000 acres we often refer to it as a “megafire”. But what name do we put on a fire when it is four times the megafire threshold? The incident management team on the Martin Fire in Northern Nevada estimates their fire has burned approximately 425,000 acres. (I think we should reserve “gigafire” for a 1 million-acre fire.)

According to the National Situation Report there are only 634 personnel assigned. That is extremely low density of firefighters for such a huge fire — it stretches for 56 miles, west to east. Let’s assume for a moment that the perimeter is 150 miles (it is probably more). If so, that is about three people per mile of fireline, not including support personnel. However with mostly light fuels, there is less mop up after the spread is stopped, requiring fewer personnel.

map martin fire
The perimeter of the Martin Fire at 8:49 p.m. MDT July 10, 2018. The yellow line was from the previous day.

With the long distances, limited numbers of firefighters, and what may be difficult access, firefighters on the Martin Fire say they have developed an innovative approach to containing the blaze.

Firefighters know that air tankers and helicopters dropping water or retardant do not put out fires. Under ideal conditions they can slow them down enough to allow ground-based firefighters the opportunity to move in and actually put out the fire in that area. If there is no ground support working with the aircraft, the chances of success are very low. Reading between the lines of an update about the fire (embedded farther down) it appears that firefighters realized that in some instances the fire was spreading beyond retardant drops. It is not clear if the fire burned through the retardant, spotted over, or burned around the retardant.

martin fire retardant lines
Photo uploaded to InciWeb July 8, titled: “Martin Fire Crossing Retardant Lines”.

The tactic they decided to deploy involved using a combination of water-scooping air tankers, retardant-dropping air tankers, and firefighters building line on the ground. Aircraft that drop water, helicopters or fixed wing, apply it directly to the flaming front, since dropping it out ahead of the fire is often not effective since it does not adhere to the vegetation or have a long-term effect like retardant.

Here is how they described what they did:

Crews and equipment are making excellent progress building containment lines along the southeast flank of the fire. Due to the heavy, fine fuel loads, high winds and extremely fast fire rates of spread, an innovative tactic has been developed to combat these conditions using a three-prong attack. First, a long line of water is laid down by super scoopers, immediately followed by a retardant drop from air tankers. The approaching fire is thus cooled sufficiently that dozers and crews can safely and immediately dig a containment line right up against the side of the retardant line facing away from the flame front. Very close timing and coordination of air drops of water and retardant with ground forces has been proven to be the most effective tactic in these volatile burning conditions.

The part that may be innovative is slowing the flaming front with scooping air tankers AND then putting retardant just outside the edge of the fire. And as usual, quick followup by ground forces is essential.

Here are links to videos shot on the Martin Fire of drops by a DC-10 and two water scoopers.

Is it interesting that these firefighters, like many others in Canada and Europe, know that water-scooping air tankers are a very important tool in the toolbox. However, this year the U.S. Forest Service decided not to have any of them on exclusive use contract. The ones being used thankfully were available on a Call When Needed contract. And the number of retardant-dropping large air tankers on EU contracts were cut by one-third over last year.

They are also having success on the Martin Fire using a local task force:

Yesterday, fire spread slowed significantly due to the hard work of the local Elko Task Force that hit the head of the fire early Sunday morning and throughout the day. The task force took advantage of the fire naturally slowing as it entered flatter terrain with lesser fuel loads. Operations personnel report that the fire is moving into patches of greener vegetation such as Siberian wheat grass, which was planted as part of the BLM’s rehabilitation and fuel treatment efforts on previous fires. Green fuels slow the fire’s advance, making it easier for bulldozers and engines, with the aggressive assistance of super scooper air tankers and heavy and light helicopters, to catch up and get containment lines in place.

The head of the fire on the east side has approached and so far has not crossed the major drainage in the 3-D map below, thanks, no doubt, to the points brought out in the preceding quote.

map martin fire
A 3-D map showing the perimeter on the east side of the Martin Fire at 8:49 p.m. MDT July 10, 2018. The yellow line was from the previous day.

The Martin Fire is bringing in Beth Lund’s Type 1 Great Basin Management Team to handle the east side, while Taiga Rohrer’s Type 2 Great Basin Incident Management Team will continue to take care of the west side.

747 SuperTanker activated on CAL FIRE CWN contract

In the file photo above, Air Tanker 944, a 747-400, drops near structures on the Palmer Fire south of Yucaipa, California at 4:25 p.m. PDT September 2, 2017. Photo by Leroy Leggitt, used with permission.

CAL FIRE activated the 747 SuperTanker today, July 7, on a Call When Needed  (CWN) contract after it was carded by the agency. The aircraft has been hung up in the annual recertification process this year due to a required software addition. The approval, or carding, is temporary, pending resolution of the data software issue which helps track systems on the air tanker. The issue is not related to the actual retardant delivery system.

In addition to the CWN contract with CAL FIRE, GlobalSupertanker also has contracts with the states of Colorado and Oregon.

As this is written at  6:50 p.m. PDT July 7, Tanker 944 had just received a launch order and is en route to the Klamathon Fire on the Oregon/California state line.

Two additional MAFFS air tankers activated

Two more C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) have been activated, joining the two that were mobilized July 2.

These aircraft are coming from the Air National Guard bases at Cheyenne and Reno. The first two were from the Air Force Reserve base in Colorado Springs.

For now they are based at Colorado Springs where a temporary retardant base has been installed.

The concept behind the MAFFS is to have surge capacity. The units can be activated when ongoing wildfires reduce the ability of the 13 large air tankers on federal exclusive use contracts, or the 11 on call when needed contracts, to respond to new initial attack and extended attack fires.

Governors have the authority to activate their National Guard MAFFS as needed. The National Interagency Fire Center can also activate them.

The U.S. Forest Service owns eight of the MAAFS systems that can be slipped inside a military C-130 in a matter of hours. One of them is being used in a Coast Guard C-130 that one day may or may not be transferred to the USFS to be converted into an air tanker with a permanent retardant system. The Administration has expressed a desire to kill the program that would have transferred seven Coast Guard HC-130H’s to the USFS to help rebuild the atrophied fleet of large air tankers.

MAFFS C-130
A MAFFS unit installed inside a C-130. Boise, ID April 20, 2018(

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Colorado signs contract with GlobalSupertanker

Above: the 747 SuperTanker takes off at McClellan at dawn on March 24, 2016 after attending the Aerial Firefighting Conference. Photo By Bill Gabbert.

Today officials in Colorado announced that the state has signed a contract with Global Supertanker for the use of the company’s 747 air tanker. The agreement is a Call When Needed arrangement, which means the aircraft will only be activated on an as-needed basis.

The 747 is in Sacramento this week going through the annual recertification and “carding” process with the U.S. Forest Service. When that is complete it would again be available on a CWN contract with the state of California. If they desired, the USFS could utilize it through interagency agreements with the state. The SuperTanker was used in 2017 by CAL FIRE on several fires.

The carding process is delayed this year because the SuperTanker needs a USFS required software addition. The SuperTanker team is working with Latitude Technologies(a USFS vendor) and the USFS to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible. In addition to the CWN contracts with California and now Colorado, GlobalSupertanker also has one with the county just south of Denver, Douglas County.

Firefighters in both California and Colorado have been very busy in recent weeks fighting  huge fires. It is unknown if the 747 would be immediately activated when the software addition is complete.

Global SuperTanker’s B747-400, The Spirit of John Muir, incorporates a patented system capable of delivering single or multiple payload drops aggregating 19,200 gallons of water, fire retardant, or suppressant. With a flying speed of 600 mph, the air tanker can reach any part of the globe in 20 hours or less or nearly any part of the U.S. in less than three hours.

On February 1, 2017 during a deployment in Chile the aircraft set what could be a world record for liquid dropped in a single day by a land-based air tanker at 138,400 gallons. The video below shows it pulling into the reload pit at Santiago after its seventh and final sortie that day, making 11 drops on fires near Concepcion, Navidad, and Matanzas.

Temporary VLAT retardant base established at Colorado Springs

Above: MAFFS #2 reloads at the new temporary retardant base at the Colorado Springs Airport. Screen grab from the video below.

A new temporary fire retardant base has been set up at the Colorado Springs Airport. A spokesperson for the airport told us that it can handle Very Large Air Tankers such as the DC-10 and 747. In the video below one of the DC-10’s can be seen in the background.

This is part of a joint effort between the Colorado Springs Airport, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Army Fort Carson to provide a reload facility in the area.