Photos from the Holy Fire in Orange County, California

(Above: The Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker)

(This article first appeared on WildfireToday.com)

These photos of the Holy Fire in Orange County, California were taken August 6.

Holy Fire California HC-130H
An HC-130H at the Holy Fire, August 6, 2018. It is either Tanker 116 or 118. ABC7 image.
Holy Fire Orange County California
A lead plane over the Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker.
Holy Fire Orange County California
The Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker.

Continue reading “Photos from the Holy Fire in Orange County, California”

Legislation to transfer 7 Coast Guard HC-130H’s to CAL FIRE lands on President’s desk

Much work still needs to be performed on the aircraft by the U.S. Air Force before they become firefighting air tankers

Air Tanker 116 HC-130H retardant
File photo of Air Tanker 116, an HC-130H, spraying retardant on a fire near Phoenix, June 22, 2017. Fox 20 Phoenix.

The amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 to authorize the transfer of seven HC-130H aircraft to the state of California made it through the conference committee and was passed by both houses. It was given to the President on Friday and he is expected to sign it. The aircraft will be converted to firefighting air tankers capable of dropping at least 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.

The part of the bill regarding the aircraft formerly owned and operated by the Coast Guard is a relatively small portion of the legislation that covers $717 billion in spending for the Department of Defense. It directs the Air Force to complete the center and outer wing-box replacement modifications as needed, programmed depot-level maintenance, and procure and install a gravity powered retardant delivery system in each aircraft.

The bill increases the maximum spending limits that were specified in the original 2013 legislation. The amount that can be spent on the retardant systems increased from $5 million to $7.5 million per aircraft, and the total amount spent on the entire project went from $130 million to $150 million.

In 2013, legislation directed that the seven aircraft be modified into air tankers and transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. So far at least two have come close to completing the modifications, but none of them have had retardant delivery systems installed, due primarily to delays in Air Force contracting. Occasionally one at a time has been spotted, T-116 or T-118, dropping retardant, using a Modular Airborne FireFighting System taken from the eight MAFFS units that are usually assigned to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve squadrons. This fiscal year the administration decided, five years after the process began, that they are no longer interested in acquiring the HC-130H’s.

CAL FIRE has maintained a fleet of 23 S-2T air tankers for years that can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. These seven HC-130H’s would be a very significant addition to their aviation program.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to MrCAPT1409.
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National Guard helicopters assist with firefighting in California

Above: screenshot from the first video below.

California Air National Guard helicopters are assisting with the suppression of wildfires in the state.

The Bambi Bucket shown in this first video holds 2,000 gallons. I’m thinking it is used under a Chinook

In the video below you’ll see a 650-gallon Bambi Bucket, probably used with a Blackhawk.

MAFFS at work

Above: Screenshot from the National Guard video below.

Two Air National Guard C-130’s have been working on wildfires in California for several weeks. They are temporarily outfitted with Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that can hold up to 3,000 gallons of fire retandant.

I believe this video was shot from MAFFS6 showing Coast Guard/USFS Tanker 118, an HC-130H, dropping on the River Fire east of Ukiah, California.  T-118, which is painted white, is borrowing one of the eight MAFFS systems purchased by the Forest Service that are normally reserved for military planes if they are needed to provide a surge capacity when additional air tankers are needed.

A power company and the county share cost of a Skycrane

Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter wildfire
File photo: A Sikorsky Skycrane drops about 2,600 gallons of water on the Red Canyon Fire 9 miles southwest of Pringle, SD July 9, 2016.

San Diego Gas and Electric is in its ninth year of contracting for an Erickson Skycrane helicopter. It is a unique financial arrangement that shares the cost with the County of San Diego. SDG&E, via its ratepayers, picks up the $1.75 million annual tab for availability each season, July through October, as well as the first two hours of flight time when used on a fire. The county pays for hours three and four. If it is needed for more than four hours it would most likely be on a large fire and the additional cost could be paid by another agency such as the state or federal government, if they needed the aircraft.

The current contract for the Skycrane, which carries up to 2,650 gallons, is in effect through 2022.

MD-87 air tanker experiences engine failure after takeoff

Above: Air Tanker 101, showing the added external tank, December 12, 2017 at Rapid City Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 8:38 p.m. MDT August 1, 2018; updated at 6:16 a.m. PDT August 2, 2018)

An engine malfunctioned on an air tanker operated by Erickson Aero Air July 30 after taking off from the Coeur d’Alene Airport in Idaho. A person we talked with at the airport said they heard a very loud “boom” as the engine failed, and said the aircraft was an MD-87 air tanker. Mike Ferris, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, the agency that contracts for the large and very large air tankers used by the federal government, confirmed Wednesday evening that “an  Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87 did have an engine upset shortly after takeoff from the Coeur d’Alene Airport on Monday at approx. 1430 PDT”. He said the aircraft landed safely after the incident.

The Coeur d’Alene Post Falls Press reported that unofficial sources have told them that hot debris from an air tanker engine started multiple fires after the pieces fell to the ground north of the airport. They also wrote that the runway was closed while “unspecified debris” was removed. The newspaper was not able to find any government officials who would comment about the cause of the fires, saying it was under investigation.

Kootenai County Government reported on their Facebook page that “several small fires resulted from an aircraft incident” at the airport.

(UPDATE at 6:16 a.m. PDT August 2, 2018: Late yesterday Jim Lyon, Deputy Fire Marshal/Public Information Officer with Northern Lakes Fire District, issued a statement confirming that a jet-powered air tanker under contract to the U.S. Forest Service, at approximately 2:30 p.m. “had mechanical problems on take-off and was able to make an immediate circle route to return to base safely. In so doing, it appears the plane was discharging some sort of material as a result of the mechanical problem, starting several fires throughout the area approximately a five mile radius of the airport.” Marshal Lyon said “up to eight fires” started by the incident were under control by the evening of July 30th.)

Below is an excerpt from a July 31 article in the Spokesman Review about the incident:

Jim Lyons, spokesman for Northern Lakes Fire District, said crews battled about seven fires, though none grew to the size of a major wildfire. The first blazes started about 2 p.m. and spread from there.

Shoshana Cooper, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service in North Idaho, said the fires burned to the northwest, south and east of the airport near U.S. Highway 95. She said they burned mostly grass and brush and were not affecting structures. As of 3:30 p.m., no structures had been lost.

Multiple aircraft were sent in to drop retardant on the blazes, but firefighters weren’t sure early Monday afternoon how large the fires had grown.

KXLY reported that a firefighter was injured while working on one of the fires near the airport:

A Kootenai County Fire and Rescue firefighter was injured Monday evening when he was struck by a vehicle that was backing up on Dodd Road by Strayhorn while responding to fires burning near the Coeur d’Alene Airport. He was evaluated at the scene. His injuries were not life threatening, but he was transported to Kootenai Health as a precaution.

The airport resumed normal operation at about 6:30 p.m. Monday.

We were not able to find a SAFECOM report about the incident, and very few people are willing to talk about it. Our calls to personnel at Erickson Aero Air late in the afternoon August 1 either were not returned right away or the employees we talked with were not able to comment.

This is not the first time that an engine on an Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87 exploded and falling debris caused problems after hitting the ground. On September 13, 2015 debris from a failed engine landed in a residential area of Fresno, California. One chunk of metal crashed through the rear window of a car, while other shrapnel was found in city streets.

There has been concern about retardant being ingested into the engines when the MD-87 is making a drop, since at least 2014. A SAFECOM filed back then considered the possibility after engine surges or intermittent power was a problem for one aircraft after making a drop. Photos were taken of retardant stains on the fuselage caused by retardant flowing over the wing.

The first fix that Erickson Aero Air implemented was in 2014,  “a new spade profile that has proved to eliminate this problem by keeping the fluid column much more vertical”.

MD-87 retardant tank
Air Tanker 101, showing the added external tank December 12, 2017 at Rapid City Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Then in June, 2017 the company took a much more radical step. They had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowered the release point by 46 inches, mitigating the problem, Kevin McLoughlin, the Director of Air Tanker Operations, said at the time.
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Aircraft grounded on Grassy Ridge Fire after near miss with drone

KIFI reported that all air operations were shut down on the Grassy Ridge Fire north of Idaho Falls, Idaho after a near midair collision between a drone and a helicopter on August 1.

Below is an excerpt from an article at KIFI’s web site:

Officials say the[helicopter] pilot was fortunate enough to have spotted the other aircraft just in time to take evasive action and narrowly avoid a midair collision.

A photo of a white pickup truck speeding away from the area of the near miss was taken by a flight crew member.

The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office was notified and Law Enforcement officers were dispatched to the area.

All aircraft in use for fighting the Grassy Ridge Fire were immediately grounded and will remain so, hampering the fire suppression and repair efforts, until it can be verified that the airspace within the TFR over the fire is safe to fly in again.

The 99,502-acre Grassy Ridge Fire has a fireline completely around it for days, but Incident Commander Taiga Rohrer is calling it 97 percent contained.

On or about July 29 fire officials posted this message on InciWeb:

Grassy Ridge Fire contained

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Reid.
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Multiple failures of electrical systems forces emergency landing of air attack aircraft

On July 26 the pilot and the Air Tactical Group Supervisor had a close call in an exclusive use Aero Commander 690 while flying a fire in Idaho. Thanks to their close coordination and crew resource management they landed safely at the Rexburg, Idaho airport.

Below is part of the report that was filed:


On Thursday July 26th while flying on the Grassy Ridge Fire, Air Attack XXXX experienced an in-flight emergency requiring an immediate landing at Rexburg {RXE} Airport which was approximately 4 minutes flight time from the fire. The nature of the in-flight emergency was that the ATGS and Pilot started smelling the odor produced from burning wire.

The ATGS immediately turned off the AC unit, as it had a breaker trip 2 days earlier and first thought was that maybe that could be the problem. However within a minute the Door Indicator Light came on, the Pilot went to reset the switch and it immediately popped off again. Then the Pilots radio and intercom went out.

The decision was made to head to the nearest airport which was identified as Rexburg showing 4 minutes on the GPS. The GPS turned off and then came back on. The Pilot and ATGS went through the Electrical Emergency Procedures Check List and set up for a straight in landing on Runway 17 {RXE}. The ATGS notified Dispatch and the IC of the emergency situation in route to the airport. The ATGS due to the Pilots radio being out made the calls on 122.8 of the approach and landing.

Upon landing more things started to fail, the right “Gen Out“ light went on and a couple circuit breakers popped out. Once the plane landed the gear down warning started to sound. The aircraft was taxied to parking and the Pilot went through the shut down procedures, however the engines would not shut down. The ATGS held in the door activation switch and the pilot reset a couple of the breakers and the engines shut down.

The pilot and ATGS did a quick survey of the aircraft to insure there was no fire and no smoke was visible, just the strong odor of the burning wire. With all power turned off the aircraft was monitored while the Pilot and ATGS made calls to Dispatch and company owner and mechanic.

The Owner and Head of Maintenance arrived in Rexburg about 1830 and began to do an inspection. The initial finding was that the Pulse Light on the right wing tip had caused the control switch to “melt“. For some reason a breaker or fuse did not trip and it cause the wiring to start to melt. This caused other wires to also “fry“ which was the cause of the loss of the pilot radio and other items turning off and circuits to pop. The company is starting the process of going through the wiring trunk and repair the damage caused by the incident.