10 years ago this month pilot Gert Marais was killed while fighting a fire at Fort Carson

Fort Carson reports 20 training related vegetation fires in last 12 months

(This article was first published on Wildfire Today)

A spokesperson for Fort Carson, a U.S. Army base south of Colorado Springs, admits that 20 fires in the last 12 months have been a result of training activities on the base, according to KOAA. Below is an excerpt from their report:

On March 16, a fire caused by live ammunition training on a Fort Carson artillery range burned nearly 3,000 acres off Mountain Post property, destroying two homes, numerous outbuildings, and dozens of vehicles.  Sunday, a wildfire caused by shooting on the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex public shooting range burned more than 2,000 acres and forced the total closure of a roughly 10-mile stretch of I-25 for more than an hour.

Gert MaraisLocal residents and elected officials are wondering if there is anything the base can do to minimize the number of fires started by training, such as reducing dangerous activities during periods of elevated fire danger.

Ten years ago this month the pilot of a single engine air tanker was killed while helping firefighters on the ground contain a fire that started on Training Area 25 at Fort Carson. Wildfire Today wrote about the report released by the National Transportation Safety Board, which indicates there were very strong winds that day when Gert Marais died:

At the time of the crash, a U.S. Forest Service person on the ground who was directing the SEAT estimated that at the time of the crash the wind was out of the southwest at 30-40 knots. Winds at the Fort Carson airfield, 5 miles from the crash site, were between 20 and 40 knots from 1300 to the time of the accident at 1815.

Strong winds like occured on April 15, 2008 often indicate high wildfire danger if the relative humidity is low and the vegetation is dry.

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

News from the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento, Part Two

Above: Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation

Earlier we posted Part One of  a few notes that I scribbled in a notebook at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week. Here is Part Two.


Neptune Aviation
Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation, said their air tankers in 2016 averaged 180 hours while working on wildfires. In 2017, a very busy year, that number increased to 276. Their P2V’s have retired from firefighting, leaving the company with nine air tankers, all BAe-146’s.

No one outside the U.S. Forest Service knows when the agency will issue the next round of exclusive use and call when needed next-generation air tanker contracts, affectionately called Next-Gen 3.0. When forced to guess, Mr. Hooper said the aircraft receiving those new contracts may not be activated until 2019. He may know more than most, since his former job was supervising air tanker contracting for the FS.

Phos-Chek
One of the major suppliers of fire retardant, Phos-Chek, is changing hands again. In a matter of days its parent company will be Perimeter Solutions. But as in the previous four iterations it will retain the brand name Phos-Chek.

Here is the product’s history of parent companies:
1963-1997: Monsanto
1997-2000: Solutia
2000-2005: Astaris
2005-2018: ICL
2018- ???? : Perimeter

Global Supertanker

Global Supertanker bob soelberg jim wheeler
L to R: Bob Soelberg and Jim Wheeler of Global Supertanker

Jim Wheeler, CEO of Global Supertanker Services, said the company currently has CWN contracts with CAL FIRE and two counties in Colorado — Douglas (just south of Denver) and El Paso (Colorado Springs). Other pending contracts that they hope to sign later will be with the states of Colorado, Texas, and Oregon.

Colorado

Vincent Welbaum, Colorado Aviation Unit Chief
Vincent Welbaum, Colorado’s Aviation Unit Chief

Vincent Welbaum, Colorado’s Aviation Unit Chief, said they are talking to vendors and expect to award a call when needed contract to at least one vendor that can supply large or very large air tankers. The state has been operating their own two Pilatus PC-12 Multi-mission aircraft for several years, using it to detect and map wildfires.

Colorado will have two Single Engine Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts supplied by CO Fire Aviation and Aero Seat as well as four other vendors on call when needed contracts. The state will also have two Bell 205’s on exclusive use contracts.

Helimax

Helimax Pat Pilolia
Pat Pilolia, of Helimax

Helimax Aviation is one of two subsidiaries of Heligroup Holdings. The other is CHI at Howell, Michigan which concentrates on heavy lift, while Helimax, at Sacramento McClellan Airport is in involved in aerial firefighting.  Helimax recently sold all of their Type 2 helicopters, and now have six Type-1’s, Chinook CH-47D’s.

MAFFS Group
MAFFS GroupBradford Beck, COO of MAFFS Group said the company recently sold a MAFFS II system to the Tunisia Air Force in Northern Africa. The country has operated two of the original versions of the MAFFS for 10 to 15 years. They will continue to operate the MAFFS I systems on a C-130B and will use a C-130H for the new MAFFS II which will be delivered in the third quarter of this year.  The most challenging wildfires in Tunisia occur in the Atlas mountains.

This is the second MAFFS II that the MAFFS Group has sold. The first is now being used in Columbia, South America.

Viking Air

Viking Air
The Viking Air display at the conference.

Viking Air director of Special Projects, Sales, and Marketing Christian Bergeron said the company is currently gathering information from potential customers about what they would like to see on a new version of the CL-415 water scooping air tanker.  The company expects to decide by the third quarter of this year if they will proceed with the project, which will be named CL-515. At this stage, Mr. Bergeron said, they expect it to have a larger cargo door, glass cockpit, updated avionics, and will be able to land with a full load of water. Available options will include an infrared camera system and night vision compatibility. Viking’s manufacturing facility is in Calgary, Canada.

Colorado issues analysis of nighttime aerial firefighting

Above: A Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopters drops water on the Fish Fire, June 21, 2016. LACoFD photo by Gene Blevins.

(Originally published at 5:344 p.m. MST January 24, 2018)

Colorado’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting has issued a 28-page report that analyzes nighttime aerial firefighting. Primarily it documents what several Southern California firefighting agencies are currently doing with helicopters at night.

The table below from the report presumably applies to the single helicopter that is double-crewed on the Angeles National Forest to operate both during the day and at night.

aerial firefighting at night
From the CoE report on aerial firefighting at night.

The report does not make any recommendations about flying at night, but does list seven “scenarios” that could be considered for Colorado:

  1. No night aerial firefighting operations in Colorado
  2. Night Operations statewide — wildfire only
  3. Night operations statewide — all hazards
  4. Location-specific night operations
  5. Expanded Multi-Mission fixed wing, for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance at night (the state owns two Pilatus PC‐12 fixed‐wing  aircraft currently being used for missions such as these)
  6. Extended daytime flight hours
  7. Unmanned aerial systems night operations, short-term and long-term

You can download the entire report here (large 2.6 MB file)

Below are tweets showing mostly Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopters operating at night.

Excellent photo of MD-87 on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire

(Originally published at 11 a.m. MDT September 25, 2017)

Jeff Wilson sent us the photo above taken September 19 of an MD-87 dropping on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire east of Dillon, Colorado. Thanks Jeff!

The fire was reported above Dillon Reservoir at 5 p.m. MDT September 18 and burned 21 acres on a steep slope before firefighters contained it, aided by two large air tankers and two helicopters dropping water and retardant September 18 and 19.

Resources working on the fire included Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue crews, one U.S. Forest Service engine crew, a 20-person hand crew from Rifle, and a 22-person initial-attack hand crew from the Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit.

The fire was caused by sparks from a blown insulator cap on a power line that subsequently ignited nearby grasses.

MD-87 air tanker drops Tenderfoot 2 Fire
An MD-87 air tanker drops on the Tenderfoot 2 Fire September 18, 2017. Inciweb photo.

Jeff Wilson runs a professional photography studio out of Dillon, Colorado.

Using infrared to detect gaps in retardant coverage

One of Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft shot this infrared video of an air tanker making a drop on the 500-acre Hunter Fire southwest of Meeker, Colorado about five days ago. Heat from the fire shows up as white and water or retardant drops are dark grey or black. It appears that the air tanker is attempting to fill in a gap in a retardant line, but as you can see, incomplete coverage remains.

The air tanker is very hard to see — it’s just a little dot, but it becomes obvious when the retardant is released. This shows the value of an air attack ship having infrared capabilities; the crew can direct aircraft to fill in gaps in retardant lines, in addition to mapping the fire perimeter.

Single Engine Air Tankers are a very important tool in the firefighter’s tool box, but this also shows the value of large and very large air tankers. A much longer drop means fewer gaps to worry about.

Portable retardant plant for the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire

Above: Equipment to set up a fire retardant plant arrives at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, June 25, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Don Branum.

While I was scrolling around the internet searching for something obscure I ran across these photos taken while the Waldo Canyon Fire was burning on the west side of Colorado Springs, Colorado in June, 2012. It appears that Phos-Chek was setting up a portable, or transportable, fire retardant plant at the Colorado Springs Airport, which is the home of Peterson Air Force base and the 302nd Airlift Wing.

Peterson is one of four military bases that can each supply two C-130’s outfitted with the slip-in Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) that converts the aircraft into a 3,000-gallon air tanker. Two MAFFS-equipped aircraft from the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard at Cheyenne joined the fight along with the Colorado aircraft.

C-130 MAFFS Colorado Springs Waldo Canyon fire
C-130’s being loaded with MAFFS units and configured to help firefighters on the ground suppress the Waldo Canyon Fire which can be seen in the distance, June 24, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Ann Skarban.

On June 25, 2012 the C-130s began flying air tanker missions out of Peterson Air Force Base and the permanent air tanker base at Pueblo Memorial Airport 50 miles to the south.

On June 23, 2012 the Waldo Canyon Fire started in the Pike National Forest southwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado. On June 26 it spread into the Mountain Shadows area of the city. Before the fire was out, it had killed two people and burned 18,000 acres and 347 homes. Reports later revealed a very timid, anemic, and confused initial attack on the fire and serious mismanagement issues during the first two to three days.

Two years later the Black Forest Fire on the other side of Colorado Springs killed two people and burned 489 houses and 14,280 acres, resulting in $420 million in insured losses.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged Waldo Canyon Fire.

35-minute turnarounds for Tanker 12 at Sunshine Fire

Above: Sunshine Fire near Boulder, Colorado. Boulder Office of Emergency Management photo.

Tanker 12, the BAe-146 air tanker working the Sunshine Fire near Boulder, Colorado on March 19, was dropping retardant about every 35 minutes, according to Rob McClure of the CBS TV station in Denver.

After a million acres burned in Kansas and Oklahoma on March 6 and 7, the National Interagency Fire Center mobilized three large air tankers on March 10, a little earlier than usual, sending Tanker 12 to the Jeffco Air Tanker base at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and two others to the OK/KS area.

It turned out that Jeffco was only 12 miles southwest of where the Sunshine Fire started on March 19 near Boulder, Colorado. Rob McClure of CBS4 in Denver timed the interval between drops made by the BAe-146, determining it to be about 35 minutes.

Sunshine Fire Boulder
The Sunshine Fire was 12 miles northwest of Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (in the foreground).

From the air tanker base the pilots could probably see the fire soon after it started. If they took off from runway 30R they would be heading straight at the fire.

In addition to Tanker 12, four helicopters and Colorado’s Multi-mission aircraft were working the incident.

Three National Guard helicopters were made available by a verbal executive order by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper hours after the fire started. The aircraft, from Buckley Air Force Base, included two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, one CH-47 Chinook helicopter, as well as a refueling truck.

Firefighters limited the wildland/urban interface fire to about 74 acres according to the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. We were not there but this appears to have been a pretty aggressive initial attack, an aspect of firefighting along the Front Range that has improved in the last couple of years.

The video below was shot March 19 from the Multi-mission aircraft, showing normal and infrared images.