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.
This article was first published at Wildfire Today
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
This is video shot August 29 from the Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) piloted by Jim Watson on the R-1 Ranch Fire 13 miles northeast of Susanville, California. He was working out of the Air Tanker Base at Chester, California. You may notice that the aircraft is following another SEAT that makes a drop ahead of him.
On Wednesday CAL FIRE gave a live tour of the Air Attack Base at Ramona, California. They talked about the OV-10 Bronco, S2T air tankers, and the C-130 that the agency has under an exclusive use contract until the end of August which is serving as a training platform so their pilots will be ready for the planned acquisition of seven C-130 air tankers.
The rededication of the memorial for the crew of Air Tanker 130 occurred as planned on August 10.
Steve Wass, Craig LaBare, and Mike Davis were killed June 17, 2002 when their C-130 crashed while battling the Cannon Fire at Walker, California.
The memorial honoring the crew near the accident site was showing its age after having been in place for a decade and a half. On Friday the new monument for the crew was unveiled on Highway 395 near the site where their air tanker crashed. (map)
These photos were provided by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest through their Twitter account (@HumboldtToiyabe) where they wrote:
Fire staff attended the rededication ceremony and unveiling of the new memorial today for the crew of Tanker 130 near Walker, Ca. Steve Wass, Craig LaBare, and Mike Davis lost their lives when the tanker crashed during suppression operations on the Cannon fire in June of 2002.
The runway is too short for some large air tankers
It is unusual to see an air tanker larger than an S-2 at the Ramona Air Attack Base in Southern California, but a C-130Q under contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) was seen at the base yesterday, August 3. Kevin Pack, who took the photo below, said it had been dropping on a fire, possibly the Sage Fire, in San Diego County.
The relatively short runway restricts which types of aircraft can use the facilities at Ramona. When the U.S. Navy built the airport in 1945 to be used as an emergency landing field it was only 4,000 feet long and remained that length well after it was conveyed to the County of San Diego in 1956.
CAL FIRE established an Air Attack Base there in 1957 and the U.S. Forest Service followed three years later.
The runway was lengthened in 2002 to 5,001 feet but it is difficult for some large air tankers and impossible for very large air tankers to work at the base. CAL FIRE has allowed BAe-146 air tankers under CAL FIRE contracts to use the runway, but currently the Forest Service prohibits their large air tankers from using the airport.
CAL FIRE bases two S-2 air tankers and an Air Tactical Group Supervisor at the airport, and the Forest Service bases a helicopter there.
The C-130Q at Ramona on Saturday was Coulson’s Tanker 134, the fourth C-130 the company has converted. Its first drop on a fire was around November 1, 2018 while on a contract in Australia. It had just finished being reconfigured as an air tanker after being rescued from storage in Tucson and had not yet been painted.
CAL FIRE is using Tanker 134 to train their pilots who are transitioning from the S-2 air tankers to the seven HC-130Hs the agency has acquired after the U.S. Forest Service lost interest in the aircraft which were previously operated by the U.S. Coast Guard.