Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations receives Humanitarian Service Award

LA County Fire Blackhawk helicopter S-70
LA County Fire photo

Helicopter Association International (HAI) announced November 8 that the Los Angeles County (California) Fire Department Air Operations Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter teams are the 2020 recipient of the Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award. The award honors the person or persons who best demonstrate the value of helicopters to the communities in which they operate by providing aid to those in need. The award will be presented January 29 at HAI’s Salute to Excellence Awards luncheon at HAI HELI-EXPO 2020 in Anaheim, California.

As wildfires once again burn throughout Southern California in 2019, this award recognizes the efforts made by the flight and ground crews of the four S-70 Firehawk helicopters while battling the 2018 Woolsey Fire, the largest wildfire on record in Los Angeles County. The fire destroyed nearly 97,000 acres, with 1,643 homes lost and more than 295,000 people evacuated at its peak.

The Woolsey Fire began midafternoon on Nov. 8, 2018, just outside of Simi Valley near the borders of Ventura County, Los Angeles County, and the City of Los Angeles. The four S-70s joined multiple other aircraft and ground crews battling the conflagration over the next four days. While the flight and ground crews rotated as necessary, the helicopters themselves were shut down only for refueling and inspection. This resulted in the four LACFDAO helicopters totaling 119.4 flight hours in the first three days—equivalent to almost an entire month’s worth of flying and maintenance in one week—completing more than 350 water drops amid winds ranging from 40 to 70 knots.

Operating on the leeward side of the flames due to high winds, LACOFD helicopters and crews were often the only aircraft working the lines. The winds kept the smoke low across the terrain and homes, forcing the crews to fly and refuel within the smoke as they realized that the only way to attack the fire was to become engulfed in it. Flying conditions quickly became almost nightlike because of the reduced visibility.

In addition to the efforts of the flight crews, the maintenance and support crews worked tirelessly on the ground. Operating in 24-hour shifts, the maintainers kept the aircraft available for every launch, ensuring they were always safe and ready to go. A majority of the 20 people on the maintenance team volunteered into the night and weekend to ensure that routine maintenance was performed efficiently and safely.

From Helicopter Association International

Progression map Woolsey Fire
Progression map of the Woolsey Fire, November 17, 2018. Perimeters produced by the Incident Management Team. Adapted by Wildfire Today.

Three DC-10s and other air tankers assisted firefighters on the Maria Fire east of Ventura, Calif.

DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914
Left to right, DC-10 Tankers 911 and 914 at Santa Maria, CA Nov. 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

These photos and the text below are from RK SMithley who was the Captain on Air Tanker 911 while the DC-10 (and many other aircraft) were assisting firefighters on the 9,412-acre Maria Fire east of Ventura, California by dropping 9,400 gallons of retardant on each sortie. He starts off by describing the photo above.

“Sunset comes to the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base 11/01/19, after a fairly busy day of fire operations on the Maria Fire at Santa Paula, CA. At right in the loading pit is our T914, which concluded its duty and is released by the USFS off contract with T911 at left, which continues active service. Both ships, along with T910 worked the Maria this date and 910 recovered to Santa Maria where she continues active duty. T914 will be flying the SBD Fest airshow at San Bernardino with two demonstration water drops both Saturday (about 2:30) and Sunday (about 11:00) so come on out and see her perform. T912 has concluded service with Cal Fire and will reposition back home from the Cal Fire Air Tanker Reload Base at Sacramento-McClellan Airport to ABQ this morning. Incidentally, that’s Erickson T107,
a Douglas MD-87, on the right. Their T105 also operated from SBD on the Maria Fire with us as well as Aeroflite T167 and a whole host of other large tankers from other bases in SoCal. The Maria Fire was pretty much out after being pounded by all the air tankers and helicopters today, with fixed-wing air ops starting shortly after daybreak.”

Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.
Maria Fire November 1, 2019
Maria Fire as seen from Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, November 1, 2019. Photo by RK Smithley.

(The tweets below of DC-10s working the Maria Fire are obviously not from Mr. Smithley)

And, from our archives:

DC-10 air tankers
File photo of three of the four DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers at Albuquerque, NM May 3, 2019,– Tankers 910, 911, and 914. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Numerous firefighting aircraft are working the Maria Fire in southern California

aircraft over the Maria Fire
Map showing aircraft over the Maria Fire at 10:44 a.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019. Tanker 910, a DC-10, is working closely with a lead plane, N556MC, a Hawker Beechcraft B200GT owned by Tenax Aerospace. N722HT has a fixed wing icon, but it is a helicopter, an Air-Crane owned by Helicopter Transport Services.

Since the Maria Fire started on South Mountain at 6:15 p.m. October 31 it has burned over 8,000 acres 4 miles east of Ventura, California.

Today firefighters are attacking it aggressively from the ground and the air. As of 10:30 a.m. PDT on November, here is a partial list of the aircraft working the fire:

Air Tankers with their tanker numbers:
DC-10: 910, 911, and 914
MD87: 105
BAe-146: 02
RJ85: 167

Helicopters:
Blackhawk: Coulson’s “new” camo-painted helicopter
Air-Crane: N722HT
(and numerous other Medium helicopters)

Today, Friday, most of the air tankers are reloading at Santa Maria, 86 miles northwest of the fire.

Maria Fire
The Maria Fire as seen from the camera on Sulphur Mountain (Willet) at 9:55 a.m. PDT Nov. 1, 2019.

Fire Alert cameras grab photos of helicopters attacking Beaumont Fire

The fire burned approximately 11 acres near Redlands, California

Beaumont Fire

11:00 a.m. PDT October 21, 2019

Firefighters in southern California stopped the spread of the Beaumont Fire after it burned about 11 acres near Redlands and Loma Linda Monday morning (see map). It was reported between 8 and 9 a.m. at 26000 Beaumont Road at San Timoteo Canyon and was aggressively attacked from the ground and the air.

Conveniently, it was within range of the San Timoteo and Crestline cameras, part of the Alert Wildfire network of fire cameras. I grabbed some of the still images as they each appeared for about 20 seconds before being refreshed. Unfortunately the San Timoteo camera lens was not in pristine condition.

Beaumont Fire

Beaumont Fire

Beaumont Fire
Continue reading “Fire Alert cameras grab photos of helicopters attacking Beaumont Fire”

Two CHP helicopter crews rescued 42 people during the North Bay fires

The October, 2017 fires were driven by winds gusting over 80 mph

California Highway Patrol helicopter
California Highway Patrol helicopter on routine patrol. CHP photo

During the disastrous wildfires that tore through large swaths of the North Bay area of California in October, 2017 two California Highway Patrol helicopter crews heroically rescued 42 residents who were trapped when roads became blocked  by fallen trees as winds gusted above 80 mph. One of the helicopters was based in Napa crewed by flight officer Whitney Lowe and pilot Pete Gavitte. A second helicopter joined them from Redding with Officers Chad Millward and Phil Agdeppa. The rescues were conducted at night with the benefit of night vision goggles.

An article at Patch.com has the details. Here is an excerpt:

“What started our rescue efforts was listening to the radio and hearing that there is nobody coming for these people, and then seeing the different blockades in the road, from downed trees to downed wires, and lines of cars that were stopped and entrapped,” Lowe said.

“We were looking from above; having the perfect view of the fire headed their direction … and thinking ‘They have no idea,'” he said.

Once they found somewhere suitable to land, Lowe recalls jumping out of the helicopter and running a quarter-mile down to a line of cars full of people trapped by fire.

“I started telling the people in cars, ‘There is a huge fire and it’s coming this direction, you guys are trapped in three different places between here and safety at the bottom of the hill. If you guys want, come up to the helicopter and we’ll start evacuating you guys.’ And so that is what we did.”

In groups of one to four, multiple families were flown to safety at Monticello Road and Atlas Peak Road. When fire encroached that area, the families were evacuated to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.

“That is what we did for the next 8-1/2 hours,” Lowe said. “We never shut the helicopter off, just refueled.”

“Throughout the night we were able to rescue 26 people, and they [the Redding crew] were able to rescue another 16 people,” Lowe said.

After the smoke cleared the four officers received multiple medals of valor.

Map Tubbs, Nuns, Atlas Fires
Map of the Tubbs, Nuns, and Atlas Fires October 13, 2017.
California Highway Patrol helicopter
A California Highway Patrol helicopter performs a different type of rescue. CHP photo

Video of Super Scoopers refilling at Lake Castaic

Today, October 11, 2019, Robert Schwemmer shot this video of two Canadair CL-415 Super Scoopers from Quebec that are under contract with Los Angeles County, refilling their water tanks at Castaic Lake to fight the Saddle Ridge fire on the north side of Los Angeles.

The fire has burned over 7,000 acres and destroyed 25 structures. More information about the fire is at Wildfire Today.

Orange County begins trial of real time mapping technology

The project is funded by the State of California

This article was first published at Wildfire Today

FIRIS fire wildfire mapping real time
An example of the technician’s screen when using the FIRIS system. Screenshot from the video below.

This month the Orange County Fire Authority began a 150-day pilot program that could lead to real time fire mapping being available to firefighters on the ground. Not knowing exactly where a fire is has been a factor in more than two dozen firefighter fatalities in recent decades. Smoke, terrain, and darkness can obstruct the view of fire crews and supervisors which can severely compromise their situational awareness.

The 150-day Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS) pilot program got off the ground September 1 thanks to funding secured in the 2019-2020 California state budget by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).

“The State of California must shift strategies to address the constant crisis of wildfires – this is no longer a seasonal threat,” stated Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris. “I am proud to have partnered with the Orange County Fire Authority in securing $4.5 million in state funds for technology that will protect lives and property by giving first responders better, stronger tools to use against the threat of wildfires.”

The system utilizes a fixed-wing aircraft equipped with infrared and radar sensors that can see through smoke. The plane provides real-time fire perimeter mapping and live high definition video to support supercomputer-based wildfire predictive spread modeling.

FIRIS fire wildfire mapping real time
Screenshot of aircraft featured in the FIRIS B-Roll video.

A supercomputer at the University of California San Diego will run fire spread projections based on fire perimeter data collected by the aircraft. The output will estimate where the fire will be in the next six hours. The fire spread model will adjust for successful fire suppression actions by firefighters on the ground and in the air. This intel allows for more timely and accurate decision making for resource allocation and evacuations.

“The ability to place resources exactly where they need to be to successfully battle a wildfire can mean the difference between lives and property saved or lost”, said Orange County Fire Authority Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. “Technology is becoming increasingly important as we work to suppress wildfires quickly. We’re hopeful this pilot program may someday become a routine asset statewide.”

For decision-makers on the ground, a common operating picture increases situational awareness. Firefighters on the front line, incident commanders, law enforcement, and regional and state emergency operation centers all could have the ability to see the same fire intel on a smartphone, tablet or computer in real-time. Fire perimeter maps and live video feeds are provided through an electronic network to assist decision-makers.

This is another step toward the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety which would ultimately provide to fire supervisors the real time location of a fire and the location of firefighting personnel and equipment.

The video below is “B-Roll, that is, unedited footage. The first 6.5 minutes are simply images of aircraft, but after that you will be able to look over the shoulder of the imagery technician as he observes infrared imagery of a fire, manually interprets the heat signatures, then traces the fire perimeter on the screen. That perimeter could then be electronically sent to the super computer in San Diego County which would run a fire spread model to predict what the fire will do in the next six hours.

Firefighter’s widow files suit against CAL FIRE and Global Supertanker over air tanker drop

The widow of the Draper, Utah firefighter who was killed while fighting a wildfire in Northern California has filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the company that operates the 747 Supertanker, according to a report by the Sacramento Bee.

Matthew Burchett
Matthew Burchett. Photo: Draper City FD

Matthew Burchett, a 42-year old Battalion Chief from the Draper City Fire Department was killed August 13, 2018 when a retardant drop from the 747 air tanker uprooted an 87-foot tall tree that fell on him. Three other firefighters had different assortments of injuries from sheered-off trees and limbs, including broken ribs, deep muscle contusions, ligament damage to extremities, scratches, and abrasions.

On September 14, 2018 CAL FIRE released what they call a “Green Sheet” report about the fatality and injuries that were caused by the falling tree debris. The accident occurred on the Ranch Fire which was part of the Mendocino Complex of Fires east of Ukiah, California.

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.

Standard procedure is for firefighters to leave an area before an air tanker drops. The report said the personnel on that Division were told twice that day to not be under drops — once in a morning Division break-out briefing, and again on the radio before the fatal drop and three others from large air tankers were made in the area. It was not confirmed that all supervisors heard the order on the radio to evacuate the drop area.

One of the “Incidental Issues / Lessons Learned” in the report mentioned that some firefighters like to record video of air tanker drops:

Fireline personnel have used their cell phones to video the aerial retardant drops. The focus on recording the retardant drops on video may distract firefighters. This activity may impair their ability to recognize the hazards and take appropriate evasive action possibly reducing or eliminating injuries.

The air tanker that made the drop was T-944, a 747-400 that can carry up to 19,200 gallons. Instead of a more conventional gravity-powered retardant delivery system, the aircraft has pressurized equipment that forces the retardant out of the tanks using compressed air. This is similar to the MAFFS air tankers. When a drop is made from the recommended height the retardant hits the ground as a mist, falling vertically, rather than the larger droplets you see with a gravity tank.

Diagram fatality air tanker drop Green Sheet
Diagram from the CAL FIRE Green Sheet.

In this case, according to the report, the drop was made from approximately 100 feet above the tree tops. The report stated:

The Aerial Supervision Module (ASM) identified the drop path to the VLAT by use of a smoke trail. The VLAT initiated the retardant drop as identified by the smoke trail. Obscured by heavy vegetation and unknown to the VLAT pilot, a rise in elevation occurred along the flight path. This rise in elevation resulted in the retardant drop only being approximately 100 feet above the treetops at the accident site.

When a drop is made from a very low altitude with any air tanker, the retardant is still moving forward almost as fast as the aircraft, as seen in this drop. If it is still moving forward there will be “shadows” that are free of retardant on the back side of vegetation, reducing the effectiveness of the drop. From a proper height retardant will gradually slow from air resistance, move in an arc and ideally will be falling gently straight down before it hits the ground. Another example of a low drop was on the Liberty Fire in Southern California in 2017 that dislodged dozens of ceramic roofing tiles on a residence and blew out several windows allowing a great deal of retardant to enter the home.

Global Supertanker, the company that operates the 747 Supertanker, gave us this statement shortly after the Green Sheet was released:

We’re heartbroken for the families, friends and colleagues of Chief Burchett and the other brave firefighters who were injured during their recent work on the Mendocino Complex Fire. As proud members of the wildland firefighting community, we, too, have lost a brother.

On August 13, 2018, Global SuperTanker Services, LLC acted within procedural and operational parameters. The subject drop was initiated at the location requested by the Aerial Supervision Module (ASM) after Global SuperTanker Services, LLC was advised that the line was clear.

The company is owned by Alterna Capital Partners LLC, of Wilton, Conn.

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