Firefighters suppress Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California

photo Lakeville Fire Petaluma Calif
Photo of the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California, June 5, 2020. Photo by CAL FIRE.

(This article first appeared on WildfireToday)

Yesterday the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California burned about 141 acres before being suppressed by firefighters assisted by air tankers. The origin of the fire was near the 4500 block of Lakeville Highway.

Map Lakeville Fire Petaluma Calif
Map showing the location of the Lakeville Fire southeast of Petaluma, California, June 5, 2020. Wildfire Today/Google Earth.

If the firefighters in the photo below (at top/right) are carrying drip torches as it appears, they may be burning out from a retardant line to consume the fuel between the retardant and an already burned area.

More photos on Twitter.

Pandemic makes it difficult to obtain raw materials to produce fire retardant

In an unusual move, Forest Service purchases 3.8 million gallons before the busy part of the wildfire season

Retardant mix
Dry retardant mix that the Royal Australian Air Force transported from the U.S. to Australia in January, 2020.

For decades the U.S. Forest Service has had long term contracts with the company now known as Perimeter Solutions to supply, mix, store, and load long-term fire retardant in air tankers at dozens of air tanker bases around the United States.

Disruptions in international logistics and shipping due to COVID-19 have complicated the acquisition of raw materials required to produce wildland firefighting retardant products, such as Phos-Chek. Typically Perimeter Solutions has ordered the materials on an as needed basis depending on the demand at the time and the rate at which it is used. This is sometimes called Just In Time Inventory.

The contract the FS has with Perimeter specifies payment by the gallon as it is used. But in an unusual move, the agency recently purchased 3.8 million gallons of retardant worth $15.6 million — an average cost of $4.12 per gallon, which includes mixing, storing, and loading onto aircraft. Between 2013 and 2017 the FS used an average of 12.2 million gallons of fire retardant each year.

Here is how the current situation was described in an April 29, 2020 internal email by Caleb Berry, a FS Washington Office Aviation Management Specialist:

Perimeter Solutions requires raw materials from international sources to produce wildland firefighting retardant products. Typically, Perimeter Solutions orders raw materials over a period of time as fire demand increases and warehoused retardant is used / purchased. COVID-19 disrupted international logistics by threatening supply chain continuity and overseas shipping.  In order to create a reliable stock pile of retardant for the 2020 fire season, raw materials had to be purchased immediately and moved to the United States. The immediate, large raw materials purchase required  a significant funds out lay  prior to seasonal fire retardant purchase and commensurate risk assumed by Perimeter Solutions. As a primary consumer of fire retardant, it is in Forest Service best interest to insure availability of retardant products and vendor stability. This dual purpose was achieved by an advance purchase of first tier retardant at all Forest Service full service retardant contract line items.

Airtanker bases will continue to order retardant services and products on an “as required” basis. The contractor will warehouse product and materials until delivery is requested.

We asked Edward Goldberg, CEO of Perimeter Solutions, about this new purchasing arrangement. He responded in an email:

Perimeter Solutions has been making preparations for the upcoming season for several months.  That includes purchasing raw materials, producing finished retardant, and stocking distribution and using locations. Perimeter Solutions is fully capable and willing to do what is needed to ensure a reliable supply of retardant for the full year.  The USFS decided that purchasing additional safety stock was prudent as part of their overall COVID response.

Mr. Goldberg said the quantity that the FS purchased, “represents a small fraction of what is typically used.”

Perimeter Solutions may not be familiar to firefighters as a supplier of Phos-Chek. That is because the product has been marketed under the names of five companies since the 1960s, some of which are difficult to remember:

1963-1997: Monsanto
1997-2000: Solutia
2000-2005: Astaris
2005-2018: ICL
2018-present: Perimeter Solutions

While the ownership of the company has changed hands many times, Mr. Goldberg said,  “[T]he people in Perimeter have been part of the Phos-Chek business for many years. Decades in many cases. Same great people, same great products, same great service.”

Redding retardant August 7, 2014
Bags of dry retardant mix at the Redding Air Tanker Base, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert

NWCG: Best practices for fire aviation during COVID-19 pandemic

“Airbases or aircraft may be unstaffed or closed due to COVID-19”

MAFFS C-130 Wyoming National Guard
A MAFFS C-130 from the Wyoming National Guard refills its tank during training at Boise April 21, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Interagency Aviation Preparedness Task Team (IAPTT) has developed recommendations for managing fire aviation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team is requesting that the National Interagency Aviation Committee (NIAC), which is chartered by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, approve a list of best management practices (BMP).

The IAPTT calls the BMPs “a living document to allow changes as they are needed without confusing the aviation community,” and recommended that it be posted on the NWCG website.”

Here are some excerpts:

  • Ensure implementation of the recommended wildland fire screening protocol by the NWCG’s Emergency Medical Committee (ETA, TBD) for everyone entering the airbase.
  • Contractors and agency personnel need to document daily activities and interactions (location, date, time, and names if possible) daily. This information may be requested if a known exposure has occurred.
  • Contractors and agency personnel shall carry and use disinfecting supplies for protection of aircraft and personnel.
  • Restrict access to the bases and all aircraft to essential personnel only.
  • Keep aircrews separate from other aircrews, contractors and base personnel. Recommend adding temporary facilities and supplies, such as: travel trailers, tents, mobile offices, portable toilets, wash stations, ice chests, etc. to reduce cross contamination.
  • During periods of standby and extended standby, allow flight crews to isolate themselves in quarters and respond from quarters directly to aircraft with minimal person-to-person contact with public and base personnel.
  • For personnel working at the airbase, recommend use of N-95 mask while working in tight spaces to protect against exposure such as the potential for coughing and sneezing.
  • Evaluate MAP start dates to existing conditions to potentially allow vendors to either start the MAP later or to stage/standby at the contractor’s base of operations.
  • Identify home bases for those resources currently without, such as large, very large airtankers, and CWN aircraft.
  • Align aircraft, aircrew, and crew days off.
  • Program managers, contracting officers, and contractors are encouraged to create schedules to minimize or eliminate aircrew rotations, including the need for relief crews.
  • Avoid the use of relief crews. If relief crews are used, CORs, COs and vendors shall develop a travel plan that avoids, as practicable, commercial travel and utilizes driving or chartering aircraft for crew transport to and from the home base or the alternate work location. Work with the contracting officers to identify applicable reimbursement costs and procedures.
  • When proper separation at an airbase cannot be achieved, utilize alternate locations on the airfield or adjacent airports, to stage aircraft that do not require the infrastructure of an airtanker base (e.g. helicopters, light fixed wing etc.).
  • If possible the aircraft and crews should recover nightly at the assigned permanent or temporary home base.
  • Use long term rental or agency vehicles and long term lodging to reduce exposure. Sanitize both lodging and vehicles before, during, and after use.
  • Restrict boosting out of the local area. Evaluate R&R the existing crew in place and/or reducing staffing for the duration of the assignment. [note from Bill: this apparently refers to mobilizing smokejumpers to stage at locations other than their home base]
  • Reduce staffing numbers when approved and applicable such as:
    • Requesting 2 helicopters for each helicopter manager as appropriate (restricted/limited).
    • Expect to utilize and provide pre-approvals for extension of personnel to 21 days.
  • When military aircraft are activated, position them away from existing contractor aircraft, agency personnel and existing agency bases. Consider for MAFFS units to reload only at their activated MAFFS base.
  • Consider that resources ordered out of state may be required to quarantine for 14 days either upon arrival or return from assignment.
  • Staff base with minimal personnel during standby periods allowing the remaining base personnel to work and respond from quarters.
  • Utilize virtual briefings to minimize person to person contact. Utilize conference lines, email, Microsoft Teams or other similar multi-media resources with links to appropriate briefing materials.
  • Aircraft dispatch forms shall be delivered to all resources electronically instead of person-to-person or information can be relayed over the radio.
  • When available utilize additional agency vehicles to transport crews while maintaining social distancing. If agency vehicles are not available acquire long term rental vehicles. Contact local dispatch for assistance on emergency equipment rentals.
  • Minimize transporting passengers as much as possible; clean each aircraft between flights in accordance to FAA direction. https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/air/managing-sick-travelers/ncov-airlines.html
  • Eliminate the use of shared personal protective equipment (e.g. headsets and flight helmets).
  • Clean personal protective equipment (e.g. headsets and flight helmets) before and after utilization.
  • Due to the dynamic situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, airbase operations at times may not meet policy requirements. In these cases, prior to the deviation, it will be reported to supervisors who in conjunction with aviation managers will analyze the risk and determine if the operation should continue.
  • All cargo being transported via aircraft will be handled by essential personnel only.  Handling of cargo should be accomplished with the minimum personnel as possible and all personnel will handle cargo with proper PPE at all times.
  • All personnel that show any symptoms of illness are to immediately isolate as recommended by CDC/FAA and follow agency, CDC, and state guidelines for notifications, testing and quarantines.
  • Airbases and/or aircraft may be unstaffed or closed due to COVID-19. Do not staff or open a contaminated airbase or aircraft without proper decontamination. Notify controlling dispatch and/or coordination center of status changes.
  • COVID-19 risk mitigation shall not increase or transfer risk to flight crews. Flight crews will determine mission “go, no go” decision based on proper risk mitigation.

The excerpts above comprise only a portion of the four-page document which can be found on the NWCG website.

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

The Fire Aviation website receives a facelift

working computerYou might have noticed that there have been some changes at Fire Aviation over the last week. I wanted the site to load faster and it needed a facelift so I hired a graphic artist and a software developer to tweak the layout, the back end, and the header at the top of the page .

We didn’t shut down the site to do this, so you might have seen some unusual behavior off and on. It was kind of like changing the oil strainer on a Martin Mars while in flight.

I think it’s very close to complete, but if you run across something that appears to be broken or does not work well, let us know in a comment on this article, or contact us by email.

Here is a list of what has changed:

  • Faster. The site loads more quickly.
  • New Site Search. The previous Google-powered search function that showed ads is replaced by a customized advanced search with filters; pull-down lists that can help zero in on what you’re searching for. You don’t have to select any of the filter items; you can simply enter a term in the search box. You may restrict the search to a particular year or a month. On the “Countries” list the United States is not listed, so if that’s where you think the target may be, just leave that at “Countries”. If you want to narrow the search to one of the other 10 countries in the pull-down list, you’re free to do that. Provinces in Canada and Australia are in the “States/Pr” list along with the 50 U.S. states. “Topics” is a selection of 26 of the most commonly used tags (what the article is about). Tags make it easier for you (and Google) to search for a topic. To date we have used over 856 different tags. Some are obviously used more often than others.
  • Sort by seven categories. In main navigation at the top of the page you can click on “Articles” to see posts on one of the seven  categories to which all articles on Fire Aviation are assigned.
  • Lazy Loading of images. The images “lazy load”. That is, the ones that are lower down don’t load into your browser until it appears that you are about to scroll down to display that image. So initially you only load what you need, then the loading stops. As you scroll down, more images download. You don’t have to download six articles if you’re only going to view one or two.
  • New Header. The header image at the top of the page is new and consumes less vertical real estate.
  • The main navigation (Home, Articles, Links, etc.) was moved to the very top of the page and embedded in a dark background. It now remains visible as you scroll down the page.
  • Less white space. There is less empty space at the top of the home page, and the mostly empty column on the left is gone.
  • Info at top of article. Below the headline for each article you will now see the original posting date for the article, the category, tags, and a link to view or leave comments.

NPS selects Ody Anderson as Aviation Safety Manager

Mr. Anderson is a certified UAS pilot

From the National Park Service

Ody Anderson
Ody Anderson. NPS photo.

Alton “Ody” Anderson has been named national aviation safety manager for the National Park Service (NPS). Ody is currently the regional aviation manager (RAM) for DOI Unified Regions 1 and 2, as well as National Capital Area.

In his current position, Anderson oversees a highly complex aviation program for the regions that includes year-round aviation operations at Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. The regions have two fleet helicopters, exclusive use helicopter contract, other contracts for helicopter services, one fleet fixed wing, and four unmanned aircraft system (UAS) fleet programs. Anderson is also a certified UAS pilot.

Prior to becoming the RAM, Anderson served as the Fire Management Officer (FMO) at Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS) and the Atlantic Zone in NPS’s Southeast Region. As the FMO of the Atlantic Zone, he oversaw fire planning and operations at eight NPS units. The Atlantic Zone used robust collaborative efforts with local, state, and federal partners to manage fire across agency boundaries, resulting in the presentation of the Pulaski Award in 2015 to the Greater Okefenokee Association of Land Owners (GOAL), of which CUIS is a partner. Ody maintains several wildland fire and aviation qualifications and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the aviation management position. Prior to joining the NPS, Anderson served as a fuels specialist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where he planned fuels treatments in Colorado. Throughout his career in fire and aviation, Ody served in several other positions that prepared him for his new role. During his time in Colorado and California with the U.S. Forest Service and BLM, he held positions on hand crews, wildland fire modules, engines, and helicopter crews.

NPS aviation branch chief, John Buehler looks forward to having Ody join the team that also includes fleet and helicopter specialists. “Ody will be a great addition to the national aviation team and fill a needed position to give the NPS the best customer service and excel in our safety record for aviation. His numerous years of operational experience within the wildland fire and aviation community will bring additional knowledge to the aviation branch, which will positively impact the overall NPS aviation program.”

Excited to begin his new role, Anderson said, “I look forward to engaging in this new role. It should prove to be both challenging personally and vital to the aviation program as a whole. I intend to work with managers, pilots, crews, partners, and vendors to create a safe aviation environment for the NPS. I am also very excited to be working as part of our national aviation team and collaborating to ensure that we have an efficient, effective, and safe aviation program.”

Anderson will officially begin his new role around February 3, 2020 at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID.

Interview with the pilot of the Smokey Bear balloon

Smokey Bear balloon
Smokey Bear balloon at the Shenandoah County Fire. Fred Turck photo.

The Smokey Bear hot air balloon has been flying over crowds of people since its first public voyage in 1993 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. In 2012 it survived calls by two Senators to ground the program. But in the 1,806 articles posted on Fire Aviation, we have never written about flying the aircraft. We’re about to fix that oversight.

This is an interview with the pilot, Henry Rosenbaum who is the Henrico County (Virginia) Fire Marshal and a part-time balloon pilot for the Friends Of Smokey Balloon Organization. It was conducted by Fred Turck of the Virginia Department of Forestry.


When did you join the fire service? How did you end up as Henrico’s Fire Marshall?

When I was in high school, I became a lifeguard in which I had to take EMT classes.  At that time, I wanted to be a lifeguard at Virginia Beach, the dream of many a young male lifeguard at the time.  In 1981, I joined the Lakeside Volunteer Rescue Squad to get more training and experience.  By the time, I graduated for from High School my focus turned from the beach to finding a job locally with the fire service. In 1984, I was hired by Henrico County and became a certified paramedic in 1985. I spent several years in the training division and administration and I served as Captain at several stations before being appointed as Fire Marshal in 2011.

Why the Fire Service?

I love making a difference in the lives of others; it is a way to give back to the citizens of the county and the community that have given me so much.

How did you get started in hot air ballooning?

In 1987, I took my first ride in a balloon; this ride was a life-changing event for me.  In 1988, I got my Hot Air Balloon Pilot’s license; purchased my first hot air balloon, which was called Fire 3 and later got my Commercial Pilot’s license.

Fred Turck & Henry Rosenbaum
Fred Turck & Henry Rosenbaum (pilot), L to R. Photo by Debbie Turck.

What was the training like?

Training was both book and practical.  I studied for my written exam given by the FFA; passed that and then I passed my flight test. The FAA examiner checks out my skills and abilities to maneuver the balloon safely. This was followed-up with a 1-2 hour oral review. To receive my Commercial license I needed to take another written test and have another check flight with a Commercial Pilot. Once you receive you Commercial license you are also considered an instructor, testing and mentoring new pilots.  I really enjoy this aspect.

What is your favorite thing about ballooning?

Sharing the sport of ballooning with people who do not typically have the opportunity to be involved with balloons. There is no age barrier; ballooning leaves an ever-lasting impression with folks.  Ask anyone what was the last billboard they saw and a very few might be able to tell you. However, ask them if they ever saw a Hot Air Balloon and if so what did it look like and where were you? Most will recall their encounter and tell you all about it.

I have used ballooning to promote Virginia is For Lovers, Learn Not to Burn, Autism, Childhood Cancer, Move Over and of course Wildfire Prevention with the Smokey Bear Balloon. I am drawn to causes that are personnel to me, ones I have a connection with. The Move Over Campaign honors Hanover Firefighter, Lt. Brad Clark, who was killed in the line of duty while responding to a crash on I-295 during Tropical Storm Michael.

What is the hardest part of piloting a balloon?

Maintaining the balloon at a specific altitude.  It may sound simple, but it is not. Anyone can get in a balloon, turn the burners on and the balloon will go up, turn them off and it goes down, keeping altitude is hard.

What if any instruments do you have to help you pilot a balloon?

Continue reading “Interview with the pilot of the Smokey Bear balloon”

Scientists develop retardant gel with “persistent retention”qualities

It could be used to pretreat areas at high risk of fire ignitions to make them fire resistant

long term gel fire resistant
Overhead time-course images of 3 m × 3 m unmowed (standing) grass plots that were untreated or treated with different coverage levels, dried, weathered, and allowed to dry again over time in the environment prior to burning. The normalized area burned over time demonstrates that CL2 (coverage level 2, or 2 gallons per 100 square feet) is sufficient to preclude spreading of the fire. Air tankers use the same unit of measurement, coverage level, to specify how much retardant will be dropped. Figure from the research.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today.)

A group of scientists and engineers have developed a new fire retarding chemical, actually a gel in this case, that they say can be effective for months after being applied to vegetation.

The millions of gallons of red fire retardant that air tankers drop every year is usually made from ammonium phosphate or its derivatives. It has  been called “long term fire retardant” because even after it dries, the chemical can interfere with the combustion process and may still retard the spread of  a vegetation fire to a limited degree. However research and experience in the field has shown some formulations can be toxic to fish.

Gels have been used by firefighters for several decades on structure fires occasionally on vegetation fires. The products can be more effective than plain water due to their ability to stick to a vertical surface or vegetation. Water can remain in the gel for an hour or more depending on the ambient temperature, wind, and humidity. GelTech Solutions recently received a contract from the Oregon Department of Forestry to supply a blue-colored version of FireIce HVB-Fx gel to be used in air tankers. The company says the product passed the U.S. Forest Service’s newly revised, more challenging requirements for wildland fire chemicals. But the safety data sheet for the product says, “Titanium dioxide [a component of the product] has been classified by IARC as a possible carcinogen to humans (Group 2B) through inhalation of particulate dust.” The safety data sheet goes on to say, “This classification is based on inadequate evidence for carcinogenicity in humans, but sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals (rats). It should be noted that recent studies have demonstrated that the rat may be particularly sensitive to high levels of toxicity dusts such as titanium dioxide. Epidemiology studies do not suggest an increased risk of cancer in humans from occupational exposure to titanium dioxide. The conclusions of several epidemiology studies on more than 20,000 TiO2 industry workers in Europe and the USA did not suggest a carcinogenic effect of TiO2 dust on the human lung.”

This is not the first time blue gel has been used in air tankers. The photo below was taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota August 15, 2006.

blue gel air tanker fire retardant
A single engine air tanker drops blue gel on a fire near Shep’s Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota August 15, 2006. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The scientists who developed the new fire retarding gel that they claim has “persistent retention”qualities said their formulation is environmentally benign, nontoxic, and will “biodegrade at desired timescales.” After application, it will retain its ability to prevent fires throughout the peak fire season, even after weathering that would sweep away conventional fire retardants. The cellulose-based gel-like fluid stays on target vegetation through wind, rain and other environmental exposure, they said.

“This has the potential to make wildland firefighting much more proactive, rather than reactive,” said Eric Appel, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

Treating wildfire prone areas prophylactically could provide a highly targeted approach to wildfire prevention, but, until now, long-lasting materials have not been available.

The researchers have worked with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to test the retardant materials on grass and chamise — two vegetation types where fire frequently starts. They found the treatment provides complete fire protection even after half an inch of rainfall. Under the same conditions, a typical commercial retardant formulation provides little or no fire protection. The researchers are now working with the California Department of Transportation and CAL FIRE to test the material on high-risk roadside areas that are the origin of dozens of wildfires every year.

“We don’t have a tool that’s comparable to this,” said Alan Peters, a CAL FIRE division chief in San Luis Obispo who monitored some of the test burns. “It has the potential to definitely reduce the number of fires.”

The Stanford-developed treatment contains only nontoxic materials widely used in food, drug, cosmetic and agricultural products, according to the developers. The unique properties of these gel-like retardant fluids allow them to be applied using standard agricultural spraying equipment or from aircraft. It washes away slowly, providing the ability to protect treated areas against fire for months as the materials slowly degrade.

Link to the research paper, “Wildfire prevention through prophylactic treatment of high-risk landscapes using viscoelastic retardant fluids”.

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

Firefighting at Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue
Screen grab from LAFD video.

Airport firefighting is a very specialized niche —  there are not many similarities in what they do compared to most other firefighters. For example, one of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s rigs at the city’s airport can apply by the push of a button on the dash, water, foam, dry chemical, or Halotron (a clean agent). That truck also has a penetrator device which can pierce the fuselage of an aircraft in order to apply one of the four suppressing agents in the interior of the aircraft.

Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue
A penetrating nozzle on a Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue truck. Screen grab from LAFD video.

Much more information is in the video below about the Los Angeles Fire Department Airport Rescue Firefighting organization.