California passes law enabling firefighters to take out drones

Firefighters will not be liable for damage to a drone that was interfering with emergency operations.

DJI Mavic Pro drone
DJI Mavic Pro drone

Last week the Governor of California signed legislation that removes the liability if a firefighter takes down a drone, or unmanned aerial system (USA), that was interfering with emergency operations.

Airborne firefighters have had to ground their aircraft many times over the last two years when privately operated drones intruded into the airspace over wildland fires. If a drone collides with a helicopter or air tanker the consequences could be very serious.

Senate Bill #807 says in part:

An emergency responder shall not be liable for any damage to an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system, if that damage was caused while the emergency responder was providing, and the unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system was interfering with, the operation, support, or enabling of the emergency services listed in Section 853 of the Government Code.

Emergency responder is defined as “a paid or unpaid volunteer” or “a private entity”.

The price of sophisticated drones has come down in the last year and their capabilities have made them much easier to fly. It is likely that this interference problem on fires is going to get worse before it gets better.

Both DJI and GoPro in the last two weeks announced new, much more transportable systems with folding propeller arms. The DJI Mavic Pro only weighs 1.62 pounds and when folded can fit into the pocket of some cargo pants. The GoPro Karma is half a pound heavier and is about twice as large when folded. They can fly at 35 to 40 mph at a distance of 1.8 to 4.3 miles and cost around $1,000.

Some drone manufacturers, including DJI, are incorporating geofencing software designed to prevent drones from flying near airports, Temporary Flight Restrictions, and other sensitive sites. The Department of the Interior is beta testing a new system that will ultimately prevent drones from flying over a fire even before a TFR is initiated, as long as the dispatchers enter the fire location data into the Integrated Reporting of Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) service.

As long as the DJI drone operator is connected to the internet, the system will warn the operator not to fly into the fire area. However at this stage in the development of the system it will only be a warning and can be ignored. DJI and other drone companies could change that next year, making it impossible to fly into a fire area.

Report on the use of night-flying helicopters on the Cedar Fire

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has released a report on the use of night-flying aircraft on the Cedar Fire west of Kernville, California that burned approximately 30,000 acres in August.

Two night-flying helicopters, from the Angeles National Forest and Kern County, were used along with a night-flying air attack. The video above shows the two helicopters flying to and dropping on a spot fire detected by the air attack ship.

Below are some quotes from the report:

“We were the first resources into the subdivision. We were having a difficult time figuring out where to go (fire front). Night ATGS located us with infrared and directed us to the right location.”
Engine Captain

“The Helicopter saved our bacon and let us keep working on digging line.”
Crew Member

“We were digging line next to the fire. I looked up and there were 25-foot flames. H-531 came in, cooled it down, and we continued digging line.”
Crew Member

Tanker 910 on the Soberanes Fire

Tanker 910 Soberanes Fire
Tanker 910 on the Soberanes Fire, 6:02 p.m. MDT July 23, 2016. Photo by Wally Finck.

Wally Finck, a Battalion Chief with Santa Clara County Fire, sent us two photos he took of Tanker 910, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County, California.

Tanker 910 Soberanes Fire
Tanker 910 on the Soberanes Fire, 6:02 p.m. MDT July 23, 2016. Photo by Wally Finck.

On August 4 we ran the photo below that Chief Finck also shot.

T-910 Soberanes Fire
T-910 on the Soberanes Fire. Photo by Wally Finck.

Thanks Chief Finck.

Smokejumpers used in Orange County California

Above: Smokejumpers descend over the Holy Fire August 31, 2016. USFS photo.

(This article first appeared on WildfireToday.com)

Until yesterday smokejumpers had never parachuted into a fire on the Cleveland National Forest. This was the only National Forest in California that had not yet inserted jumpers in this manner. Occasionally jumpers are assigned to a fire but arrive in a conventional manner, on the ground.

They were ordered for the Holy Fire just off Trabuco Creek Road 2.2 miles east of the city of Robinson Ranch in Orange County, California. The fire burned 155 acres between the road and the Bell View Trail at the top of the ridge above Trabuco Canyon. The fire ran to the top of the north-facing slope and stopped thanks to the efforts of firefighters on the ground, the change in topography and fuels, and the heavy use of helicopters and air tankers, including a DC-10.

Map Holy Fire
Map of the Holy Fire at 8 p.m. PDT August 31, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The Cleveland National Forest stretches between the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area and the outskirts of San Diego.

map Holy fire 3-d
3-D map of the Holy Fire at 8 p.m. PDT August 31, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Jason Foreman with the Redding Smokejumpers said the 16 jumpers were dispatched from Redding and Porterville using a U.S. Forest Service Sherpa and a contract Dornier aircraft, each with 8 firefighters. The arrival of the Dornier out of Porterville was delayed due to the very busy air space in southern California. The jumpers from Porterville landed on the ground at approximately 6:30 p.m. PDT, while the Redding squad all completed their jumps by 7:50 p.m Wednesday, Mr. Foreman said.

Four firefighters suffered heat-related injuries and were extracted by helicopters. The fire was managed in a unified command with the U.S. Forest Service and the Orange County Fire Authority.

Access to the base of the fire was via Trabuco Creek Road. A 3-mile hike from Robinson Ranch on the Bell Ridge Trail would take you to the top of the fire. The terrain at the fire is very steep. Hikers on the trail would have a 1,500-foot elevation change — up.

Parachute canopies Holy Fire
Parachute canopies are visible near the Bell View Trail at the Holy Fire. USFS photo.

Thrust reverser falls off DC-10 air tanker while taxiing

Above: part of a thrust reverser that fell off Tanker 911 after landing at Santa Maria. Screenshot from KCOY video.

Part of a thrust reverser fell off a DC-10 air tanker August 25 while it was taxiing after landing at Santa Maria airport (map) in southern California. The aircraft was repaired and is back in service.

Below are excerpts from the SAFECOM:

****

“After touchdown and the grounding of nose gear, the #2 engine thrust reverser was deployed with normal indications. All indications were normal during landing rollout. Chief pilot then stowed the #2 reverser and received indication that the #2 reverser was unlocked. Appropriate checklist was performed and engine was shut down. Airtanker Base was notified that the aircraft had a maintenance issue and needed an appropriate place to park. Pilot was then notified by Air Traffic Control that they had “lost a piece of the aircraft on the runway“. The part was immediately removed by airport employees and the aircraft taxied to the Airtanker Base Ramp without further incident.

Corrective Action:

“Regional Aviation Maintenance Inspector {RAMI} was contacted, as well as the Regional Office of the incident. RAMI: arrived SMX at 1930 hours and inspected parts and the aircraft. The company brought in a team and replaced the #2 fan reverser. Findings: company experts concluded that upon the #2 reverser cowl stowing, it somehow bound up at one of the guides and the three brackets that attach the cowl to the deploying jack screws sheared and the cowl departed the reverser. The company did a one time inspection of their fleet to ensure no other problems on their reversers.

RASM Comments: Good coordination with RAMI and company maintenance personnel to understand the cause of the issue. Impact to other airport traffic was minimal with only a brief interruption to retrieve parts of the aircraft that were on the runway. Also good call on the part of the company to inspect other aircraft in the fleet for similar issues. Repairs were made to the incident aircraft and it was RTCA by the RAMI.”

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

Firefighting aircraft at the Range Fire in California

Range Fire air tanker
Air tanker 66 on the Range Fire, August 27, 2016. Photo by Trey Spooner.

We have some excellent photos of aircraft that worked the Range Fire on August 27 six miles east of Arvin, California — thanks to Trey Spooner and the Kern County Fire Department. The fire burned 518 acres and is 100 percent contained.

Kern County’s Helicopter 408, a Bell UH-1H, made 81 water drops at the fire on August 26.

H-408 Range Fire
H-408 on the Range Fire, August 26, 2016. Trey Spooner photo.
Range Fire air tanker
Air tanker 66 on the Range Fire, August 27, 2016. Photo by Trey Spooner.
Range Fire air tanker
Air tanker 12 on the Range Fire, August 27, 2016. Photo by Kern County Fire Department.

Video of DC-10 dropping on Chimney Fire

DC-10 Chimney Fire
Screenshot from SLOStringer’s video

@SLOStringer shot an excellent video of Tanker 911, a DC-10, getting down low to make a drop on the Chimney Fire in San Luis Obispo County in California. We can’t embed the Twitter video here, but check it out.

Aircraft on the Gopher Fire in southern California

Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, drops on the Gopher Fire near Escondido, California August 8, 2016. Photo by Michael Burge.

Michael Burge shot these photos of an RJ85 air tanker and an Air-Crane helicopter August 8, 2016 on the Gopher Fire which burned 35 acres near a residential area off Interstate 15 near Escondido, California at Lawrence Welk Drive and Gopher Canyon. The interstate was closed in both directions for a while as firefighters worked to stop the blaze.

Helitanker 729
Helitanker 729 on the Gopher Fire