Resources stretched as wildfires erupt across California

Firefighters on the ground and in the air battled a destructive wildfire near Anaheim on Monday, the latest in what has emerged as a particularly active fire week across California.

The Canyon Fire 2 started Monday morning in the Anaheim Hills area.

By Tuesday morning, Anaheim Fire & Rescue reported the blaze to be at 7,500 acres. 1,100 firefighters were assigned to the incident, with 14 helicopters and six planes assisting from the air.

It was just 5 percent contained.

Shifting winds were top of mind for crews on Tuesday.

Of note, the coastal marine layer that typically brings with it low-lying clouds and higher humidities was apparent Tuesday morning. However, the boundary line was pronounced, and the area of the Canyon Fire 2 was still experiencing single-digit relative humidity levels, courtesy of the Santa Ana Winds.

Of course, most of the country’s attention was focused on Northern California, where a series of fires charred upward of 80,000 acres in 18 hours — head over to Wildfire Today for details on that.

A 747 Supertanker was among those resources assisting teams on the ground. By 6 p.m. PDT on Monday the aircraft had conducted six sorties, dropping over 110,000 gallons of retardant mostly in the Napa area. Many other air tankers and helicopters were also very busy slowing down the fires, where possible, with water and retardant.

By Tuesday, “we’re gonna be as stretched as we can be,” said Steven Beech, an incident commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, according to the LA Times. 

Supertanker to assist with California wine country wildfires

(Above: The 747 SuperTanker drops on the Palmer Fire south of Calimesa and Yucaipa in southern California, September 2, 2017. Photo by Cy Phenice, used with permission).

A 747 Supertanker will assist firefighters battling a series of fires that erupted overnight Sunday in California’s wine country.

Global Supertanker announced Monday morning it would assist with efforts to battle the Atlas Fire in Napa County, California. The fire broke out about 9:20 p.m. Sunday and quickly burned approximately 5,000 acres, fanned by high winds, CAL FIRE reported.  

The Atlas Fire is among a number of blazes that started Sunday night and Monday morning, forcing thousands of residents from their homes and leaving crews scrambling through the night to get a handle on the sheer number of fire starts.

The largest, the Tubbs Fire, scorched in excess of 20,000 acres within just a few hours, Santa Rosa Fire reported. The fast-moving fire forced the evacuation of area hospitals, closed schools and led officials to recall all city employees to help staff the emergency operations center.

Details about damages or injuries were not immediately available by daybreak Monday.

Outstanding photo of the 747 on the Palmer Fire (new: added videos)

(Originally published at 7:22 a.m. MDT September 5, 2017)

A few days ago Cy Phenice sent us an excellent photo of Air Tanker 944, the 747 SuperTanker, dropping on the Palmer Fire south of Yucaipa, California which we published September 3. Now we have another great photo of the huge airplane dropping on the fire.

It was taken by Leroy Leggit with a Nikon D810. He shot it at 1/800, F 5.6, using a 70-200mm lens at 150mm.

He said he took the photo from the top of a hill looking down at the aircraft.

747 Palmer Fire supertanker
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.

He told us:

I didn’t know anything about the 747 supertanker until it appeared to my right (at eye level) headed straight toward the fire… what an amazing and unexpected sight… I looked online and saw that it had only been in service for a few days.

The Palmer Fire was reported at 1:33 p.m. MDT September 2, 2017. It is nearly officially contained according to CAL FIRE after burning 3,874 acres.

This was the second fire the aircraft was used on after receiving certification and a contract from CAL FIRE. The 747 was dispatched from McClellan Air Field near Sacramento. According to FlightAware it cruised south at over 600 mph at times before dropping on the fire about an hour later, then reloaded at McClellan and completed a second sortie, dropping almost 19,000 gallons again, splitting the load into two drops.

(UPDATED at 10:07 a.m. MDT September 5, 2017)

After Johnny commented that videos are available, we checked and found these. The first one appears to be the same drop seen in the photo above.

747 assists firefighters on the Palmer Fire

Above: the 747 SuperTanker drops on the Palmer Fire south of Calimesa and Yucaipa in southern California, September 2, 2017. Photo by Cy Phenice, used with permission.

(Originally published at 12:50 p.m. MDT September 3, 2017.)

On September 2 the 747 SuperTanker was used on the second fire since receiving certification and a contract from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). The Palmer Fire was reported at 1:33 p.m. PDT Saturday and later that afternoon the Very Large Air Tanker was dispatched from McClellan Air Field near Sacramento. According to FlightAware it cruised south at over 600 mph at times before dropping on the fire about an hour later, then reloaded at McClellan and completed a second sortie, dropping almost 19,000 gallons again, splitting the load into two drops.

As of Sunday morning evacuations affecting about 100 homes and 450 residents were still in effect for the fire which has burned 3,300 acres about two miles south of Calimesa. CAL FIRE is in Unified Command with Redlands Fire Department, Beaumont Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office.

The working theory is the fire was caused by fireworks near Fisherman’s Retreat mobile home resort according to CAL FIRE.

On August 31 and September 1 the 747 completed at least three sorties to the Ponderosa fire near Manton, California which was the first time the aircraft had dropped on a wildfire in the United States since the retardant delivery system was removed from Evergreen’s 747-100 and reinstalled into a 747-400 operated by Global SuperTanker. In 2016 and earlier in 2017 it was used on fires in Israel and Chile.

747 was used Tuesday on California fire

The Supertanker dropped on a wildfire 13 miles northeast of Oroville, California.

(Updated at 12:45 p.m. PDT August 31, 2017)

For the first time in several years the 747 SuperTanker dropped retardant on a wildfire in the United States. In 2016 and earlier this year the 19,000-gallon aircraft was used on fires in Israel and Chile, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that it had all of the inspections, tests, approvals, and very importantly, a contract in place.

On one sortie to the Ponderosa Fire northeast of Oroville, California at 7 p.m. MDT Wednesday August 30 Tanker 944 made two drops, half a load on each pass.

747 Supertanker
A flight of the 747 Supertanker (Tanker 944), 12:45 p.m. PDT, August 31, 2017. FlightAware.

As this article was updated at 12:45 p.m. PDT August 31 the Tanker 944 was on another sortie in the same general area. (see above)

747 supertanker
One of the first tests of the re-installed retardant system on the Global Supertanker 747-400, May, 2016. Global Supertanker photo.

This aircraft is the second version of the Supertanker that was developed by Evergreen Aviation, originally in a 747-100. After buying the retardant system and the intellectual property, Global SuperTanker installed it in a newer more powerful 747-400.

747 SuperTanker receives firefighting contract with CAL FIRE

Above: Air Tanker 944, the 747 SuperTanker, at Colorado Springs, May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Originally published at 2:23 p.m. MDT August 28, 2017.

Jim Wheeler President and CEO of Global SuperTanker said today their 747 SuperTanker has received a call when needed (CWN) contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). The aircraft and crew were also issued cards by CAL FIRE, meaning they passed the inspections and meet the qualifications. The U.S. Forest Service participated in the process but they do not issue cards until a USFS contract is in place.

Mr. Wheeler said the air tanker is presently at McClellan Air Field and is available.

The first time the 747 was used on a U.S. fire was on the Railbelt Complex of Fires in Alaska August 1, 2009. About a month later it assisted firefighters on the Station Fire near Los Angeles.

Photos of five air tankers at McClellan, August 5, 2017

Above: Tanker 105 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. It is a good view of the external tank, or pod, that was fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowered the release point by 46 inches. The intent was to keep the flow of the retardant away from the engines. Photo by John Vogel.

(Originally published at 6:04 p.m. MDT August 5, 2017)

John Vogel shot these excellent photos on August 5 of air tankers at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento.

Thanks John!

Air tanker mcclellan
Tanker 911 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
Air tanker mcclellan
Tanker 62 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
Air tanker mcclellan
Tanker 133, Coulson’s most recent air tanker conversion, at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. Photo by John Vogel.
Air tanker mcclellan
Tanker 944 at McClellan Air Field, August 5, 2017. On August 4 the company moved the aircraft out of Colorado Springs to avoid a hailstorm. They hope to get it carded by CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service. Photo by John Vogel.

There are a couple of more hurdles before the 747 SuperTanker is certified to fight wildfires

Chief Dennis Brown of CAL FIRE, when describing under what conditions his agency might use the 747: “You don’t use a sledgehammer to do your finish work.”

Above: The 747 Supertanker at McClellan Air Field March 22, 2016.

(Originally published at 4:21 p.m. MDT July 27, 2017.)

On July 25 the 747 SuperTanker achieved probably the most difficult step toward its goal of being able to drop retardant on wildfires, it received a 17-month interim approval of the retardant delivery system from the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB). But it still can’t operate over fires. The next items on the To Do list of Global SuperTanker (GST), the company that operates the 19,200-gallon Very Large Air Tanker, is to have the pilots “carded” and the aircraft inspected. That process will be starting in a day or two while the ship, Air Tanker 944, sits at Victorville, California.

GST signed a Call When Needed (CWN) contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) on June 6 of this year hinging on the aircraft receiving approval by the IAB and the aircraft and the pilots being approved or carded.

Dennis Brown, the Chief of Flight Operations for CAL FIRE, told us today that his agency is working with the U.S. Forest Service to review the required information about the 747 and the personnel so that the cards can be issued if everything is in order. He said if they receive the data they need from GST, everything looks good, and there are no stumbling blocks along the way, the most optimistic scenario is that the cards could be issued by the end of next week, around August 4.

747 Supertanker
747 Supertanker taking off at McClellan Air Field at sunrise March 24, 2016.

But Chief Brown said, “It’s a little longer process than carding a Cessna 182, for sure”, adding that there are about 600 Airworthiness Directives to consider.

We asked if GST had any Initial Attack (IA) qualified pilots. “No, and we would not use them IA nor do we use the DC-10 IA”, Chief Brown said. “They would all be required to have an [Aerial Supervision Module] Lead Plane in front of them just like the [Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems] and the DC-10’s.”

We mentioned a widely reported quote attributed to CAL FIRE spokesperson Janet Upton, who reportedly said earlier this week, “Would we use [the 747] if approved? Absolutely we would use it.”

According to Chief Brown that is not what Ms. Upton said. “If the SuperTanker was approved it could be considered for CAL FIRE use”, he said, elaborating on Ms. Upton’s remarks to the reporter. “And then she went on to explain that it could absolutely become another tool for Incident Commanders to consider using along with other assets available to them.”

Mr. Brown said if the aircraft and pilots are completely approved it does not mean his agency will call them up on every fire they have. “It’s a specific tool for certain situations”, he said. “It’s certainly not going to be the tool we use on half-acre fires. If it gets approved we will consider it just like we do with anything else. There are some situations where a scooper will work the best, a [Single Engine Air Tanker] might work the best, a [Large Air Tanker] or a [Very Large Air Tanker]. But not every aircraft fits every role. You don’t use a sledgehammer to do your finish work, you know?”