Friday, September 18, 2020

An aviation contractor reflects on flying fires for the firefighters on the ground during this devastating fire season

I saw a post from Coulson Aviation on their Facebook page yesterday which left me speechless. It is not their normal post about their aircraft currently on contract with the U.S. Forest Service or soon to be on contract in Australia, it is a post addressed to the all the firefighters on the ground. They speak in very eloquent terms about the sacrifices made by all the firefighters on the ground, that they fly to help them. I always try to say that aerial firefighting assets fly to help the firefighters on the ground, they do not put fires out but I do not write this out of any first hand experience. As soon as I saw Coulson's post yesterday, I knew that I had to share it with you. They say what I can not. Please click on see more to read the entire post. And don't forget the pictures. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

2020 wildfire season: Bobcat Fire in San Gabriel foothills and Mt. Wilson

A couple of days ago I began to follow the Bobcat fire in the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County, California. The fire is threatening nearby foothill communities. As I write this, the fire has burned 44,393 acres. While some mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted, allowing residents to return, other mandatory evacuation orders and evacuation warnings remain in place.  I began following the fire through the Bobcat Inciweb pages, the Angeles National Forest facebook page as well as some media outlets, see for example this KABC article (September 16th) or this KCBS report (September 14th) or this September 15th article from Pasadena Now. Yesterday I learned that the flames came within 500 feet of the observatory. Tankers and helicopters made strategic drops to help the firefighters on the ground fight the fire on Mt. Wilson and save the historic observatory as well as vital communications and electric infrastructure. I was very interested to see that a portable container was set up on Mt. Wilson to allow the LA Count Firehawk to dip and drop on Mt. Wilson.

See this September 15th twitter post from the LA County Fire Air Ops retweeted by the Mt. Wilson Observatory, you will have to click on the link to see the photo of the Firehawk dipping on Mt. Wilson

Alternatively, the same photo is included in the following Facebook post from the LA County. The link to full post where you may read about the evacuation orders and see the 3-D photo (very cool) may be found here.

Firefighters continue to work to fight the fire on Mt. Wilson and to save the observatories, outbuildings, and transmission infrastructure. While progress has been made fires continue to burn, so they are not out of the woods yet. The firefighters have also worked hard to protect the foothill communities. Kudos to the firefighters.

The two facebook posts below were posted on September 15th.

Monday, September 14, 2020

2020 wildfire season: NJ Forest Fire Service deployments Sept 14 update

I have a couple of friends who live in areas affected by the wildfires out west. Somehow to say to my friends that what they are going through is scary beyond words feels wholly inadequate. This continues to be a devastating wildfire season for many areas in California, Oregon, and Washington. What is close to my heart as I write this is that thousands and thousands of people are scared, they may be evacuated and are wondering what they will come home to. Others are living in areas under evacuation warnings, ready to leave at a moments notice, wondering if the fire will come to their neighborhood. Wildland firefighting resources are stretched to the max, those of us in States that are able, are sending engines and crews to help the wildland firefighters work the fires. We are there to help you.  

I am so proud of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, at Governor Murphy's request, a Russian transport cargo plane transported three additional engines, a support vehicle and ten wildland firefighters to California, they arrived in San Francisco on Saturday, September 12th. They join a few NJFFS engines and crews already working in California, Nevada and elsewhere in the western U.S. Most states in the Eastern Area Coordination Center have sent engines and crews to help out west   Here is a nice article from Josh Axelrod of NJ Advance Media about the deployment of NJFFS resources.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Never Forget - Remembering 9/11

I remember all those who died in the 9/11 attacks in 2001. I remember the first responders who died trying to save others. I remember the first responders who were there saving others who live with horrific physical and emotional problems. Join me in a moment of silence to remember.

Direct link to video


Thursday, September 10, 2020

2020 wildfire season: update on NJFFS deployments (September 10th)

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) continues to provide crews and engines to the western United States to help fight wildfires. I am very proud of all the NJFFS crews and engines, you are doing good work under tough conditions. You are sacrificing time with your family and friends because what you do is fight fires and you help where you are needed. Here are two reports highlighting the NJFFS crews work out west. The first is by Josh Axelrod reporting for New Jersey Advance Media on September 4th, with a paywall. Unfortunately, you may not be able to read the article, but just in case try going here to see if you can view the article, apologies if you can not access the article. I felt it important to acknowledge good local reporting on the NJFFS deployment. Axelrod reports that "over the last six weeks 51 New Jersey Firefighters have been sent to western States, with nine currently in California." NJFFS Chief Greg Mclaughlin talks about the deployment with Axelrod of New Jersey Advance Media:

“Something’s changing,” McLaughlin said. “Why it’s changing, how it’s changing, is still uncertain or unclear. It’s the extremes that’s happening that are really causing an unpredictability.”

In response to another year of volatile forest fires, NJFFS has sent three modules, or 10-person crews, to Wyoming, four engines to California, an engine to Nevada, an engine and resource specialists to Colorado and two helicopter managers to Montana.

Two to three crew members man each engine that drive across the country to their assignment. When crews arrive, they typically camp out, though occasionally they stay in hotels.

“There’s great eagerness to go and help out,” McLaughlin said. “It’s what they’re trained to do and it’s what their career is. It can be stressful, and it’s a sacrifice, because in the summer, school’s off, your kids are home, and you’re agreeing to leave for two weeks, to leave your family and commit to this. So it’s a big sacrifice, but there’s an eagerness and a high level of commitment to wanting to do it.”

The second report, from 6ABC in Philadelphia is freely available. I am not sure how long the link will be active so if you are arriving here some time after the date of this article, and the links are broken, you will know why. The September 10th report from 6ABC with a video may be found here, and I am embedding the video at the end of this article.

Here is an excerpt from the 6ABC report:

Yesterday, the winds were probably 15 to 20 mph all day," said Larry Birch.

Birch is part of a team from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service who are aiding those in California.

A total of 60 fires continue to scorch three states Wednesday night, including California, Washington and Oregon.

Firefighters are attacking the flames from the ground and the air, 14,000 people are on the frontlines just in California.

"(It's) very hot, we were caught in 100 degree days," said Birch.

The winds have produced everything from mushroom cloud-like plumes of smoke to vortexes that can make it almost impossible for firefighters to contain.

"I mean it was just chasing spot fires after spot fires, we have to hold the line," said Birch.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

2020 wildfire season: reflections on severe fire season in the western United States

 I have no adequate words to offer about the devastating wildfire season in parts of the western United States. I know that the wildland fire fighters on the ground and in the air are working very hard to protect you and your homes. They are stretched to the max. I am very thankful of their efforts, not just because I have some friends and family who live out west, but because I care. I care passionately. A couple of friends of mine have commented to me about the wildfires, I thank them for noticing and for their concern. and assure them that I am paying attention but there are too many for me to even to try to write about here. The tip of the iceburg is dramatized by: (1) a fire shelter deployment last Saturday (all ok) in Bozman Montana, (2) the rescue of over 200 campers by helicopters from a remote campground in the Sierra National Forest, CA, and (3) yet another fire shelter deployment, this one in Shaver Lake California where 14 firefighters deployed shelters on September 8, 1 is in critical condition and a second is in serious condition.

Those conversations got me thinking that I wanted to take time today to acknowledge these devastating wildfires and to offer my profound thanks to all of our wildland firefighters on the ground and in the air. Thank-you from the bottom of my heart. Stay safe. You are spending time away from your families and loved ones during a pandemic no less. Your sacrifice is appreciated. Know that I care.

One picture is worth a thousand words and to that end, I offer the photographic essay by the Capital Weather Gang of the Washington Post on September 9th.

I close with a couple of videos, the first one is raw footage of homes burning near Bear Creek California, while the video is of one fire it represents the situation in many towns across the west as wildfires threaten homes and businesses. The second video is about wildfires burning in Oregon and Washington. I offer these videos as an act of prayer for all those affected by this devastating wildfire season and the wildland firefighters in the air, on the ground, and their support teams. I will remember.

Direct link to video

Direct link to video

Monday, September 07, 2020

2020 wildfire season: IMET deployments (September 1 to September 7)

With the continued ramp up in the wildfire season in the western United States, the National Weather Service Incident Meteorologists have been busy. According to the NWS IMET Facebook Page, as of September 4th, a total of 51 IMETs have been deployed to 73 separate incidents. I am going to list IMET deployments for the last week, from September 1st to September 7th, follow the links to the NWS IMET Facebook Page for more information and more links about each fire:

September 1

September 2

September 3

September 4

September 5

September 6

September 7

I am very thank-full for the good work that IMETs do to provide the best possible weather forecasts to the incident they are assigned to. IMETs keep wildland firefighters safe. IMETs save lives!

Note: IMET Trainees work with an IMET who is already assigned to the fire.

Friday, September 04, 2020

2020 wildfire season: Thank-you Canada and U.S. Army for helping fight wildfires in California

Thanks to Bill Gabbert's fine reporting on August 28th, I did know about that the U.S. Army announced last week that they were sending 200 troops to fight wildfires in California. First there was a training period to learn about wildland firefighting for a few days ending on September 30th. See this September 3rd tweet from the U.S. Army North with a short video of members of the I-Corps completing their training, they are practicing working with hoses. A special thank-you to all the U.S. Army troops helping fight wildfires in California. Your service will not be forgotten. Stay safe.

Again, thanks to Bill Gabbert, I did know that the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) had asked Canada and Australia to send wildland firefighters to help fight wildfires in California, Bill writes on September 2nd that the Canadian Province of Quebec is sending six crews of twenty persons each while the request to Australia is still pending. As Bill wrote on September 3rd, the crews from Quebec arrived in the U.S. on September 2nd and received training in the use of fire shelters before being deployed to the North Complex in California. 

I was a little behind in my reading, so I only learned this morning about the wildland firefighters from Quebec, Canada coming to help fight wildfires in California. I used to spend a part of each summer in northern New England not far from the border with Quebec, so Quebec's deployment has a special meaning to me. Thank-you Quebec. Stay safe.

Note, after reading Bill Gabbert's reporting on the mobilization of U.S. Army Troops and the deployment of wildland firefighters from Canada to wildfires in California, I did find some reporting on these events on the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) Twitter Page, see for example their September 3rd post. Since Bill's reporting contained much the same information and I was unable to fully embed the NIFC tweets, I opted not to included the NIFC. But for those who are so inclined the NIFC twitter page is a good resource with lots of good information about current wildfires burning, wildland fire safety, deployments, etc. So I wanted to give @NIFC_Fire a shout out for their nice twitter page.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

2020 wildfire seasons: air tankers in action (Aug 14th) over Grizzly Creek Fire CO

 I found a nice video to share with you uploaded on August 14, 2020 to Youtube of airtankers in action over the Grizzly Creek Fire in the White Mountain National Forest near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The video is just under five minutes. I should warn you that there is one instance of colorful language near the beginning of the video, if that bothers you you may want to mute the sound. I hope that I have correctly identified the tankers that ou will will see in the video: MD-87s from Aero Air, a P-3 on exclusive use contract with Colorado, an RJ85 from Aero Flite, a DC-10 tanker from 10 Tanker, and a BAe-146 from Neptune Aviation and a couple of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs). Enjoy.

Direct link to video on Youtube

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

2020 wildfire season: update on NJ Forest Fire Service deployments in western US (Sept 1st)

I want to provide a brief update to what I know about New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) deployments in the western United States where they are helping fight wildfires. I last wrote about these deployments on August 28th. Before I get to New Jersey's deployments, I want to point out that when I was checking the Eastern Area Coordination Center's (EACC) website today (information updated frequently), specifically their resource summary page. The states in the Eastern Area are well represented in deployments in the western U.S. Point being is that New Jersey is but one of the states in the EACC sending crews and/or engines out west. For a listing of the states and agencies in the EACC, go here.

The NJ Pinelands Module, aka NJ-NJS#3, a 10-person crew, is being demobilized and will return home soon. They spent two weeks working wildfires in Wyoming and more recently in South Dakota, thanks to my friends at the NJFFS Section B-10 website for this information (site updated frequently, so what you see may be different).

Regarding other NJFFS deployments, there is a nice article from the NJ Herald (August 27). According to this article, five (I think) NJFFS engines have been deployed to California, Colorado, and Nevada and smaller two person crews are in Montana and California doing specialized tasks. The article interviewed Gregory McLaughlin who heads the NJ Forest Fire Service, McLauglin provided some insight into the two-week deployments of 10-person modules:

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also extra precautions being taken as well. Instead of 20 people in a “hand crew,” the number has been cut to 10. Those going are isolated in New Jersey for a couple of days and tested for the virus.

Once it’s determined where the crews will go - they are dispatched by e-mails - they work remotely, taking with them their own food, water and equipment.

“Normally, there were large camps set up and teams would go out from there,” the chief explained. The precautions also cut the number of people going with an engine, from four to three.

Teams are also bringing their own hand tools and efforts are made to keep people within their own units.

At the scene, firefighters work 16-hour shifts on work ranging from face-to-face fire fighting, to creating fire breaks by intentionally setting fires or cutting down trees and “mop-up” operations which ensure there are no hot-spots which can flare up.

I continue to be thankful for all of you from the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, and any other firefighters from other agencies based in New Jersey who are helping out with the wildfires in the western United States. You honor us with your service. Stay safe. 

As I can do so reliably, I will try to provide updates on these deployments.