Friday, September 25, 2015

Reflections on the drought in the Western USA and aerial firefighting

Like many of you who do not live in the Western United States, my thoughts frequently turn to the four year drought that has been impacting California and other western States. And because I write this blog on aerial wild land firefighting, I wonder about how the drought might or might no be affecting aerial wildland firefighting. While I have no first hand knowledge, I do understand that water sources out West are drying up. 

Obviously, I am not in the position to witness first hand all the work that our wild land firefighters, on the ground and in the air, have done to fight wildfires in this awful fire season. However, I do know that tankers and helicopters are flying fires. Helos are dipping, somewhere. Perhaps helps have to fly a little further to find a water source to dip from or perhaps there are portable dip tanks aka “pumpkins” set up. But they are dipping. Likewise, tanker bases have water to mix retardant. 

I recall from conversations with my tanker pilot friends that it is necessary to wash the retardant off of the bellies of tankers at least every few days. Washing retardant off of the bellies of air tankers must take an awful lot of water. I would think that tanker bellies are still being washed.

I have been thinking about helicopters recently, helitankers and helos with buckets. I know that some water sources that helos had used for dipping in prior years are drying up. I wondered what the helos are using for alternate water sources. I have known about the use of pumpkins for dipping, especially in more remote locations. I figured that pumpkins might be playing an increased role, but was not certain. I recently got an answer to this question, at least as applies to the Nevada National Guard and the Nevada Division of Forestry from a recent article in Vertical Magazine.

The article discusses water sources that could have been once used by helicopters to dip that are too dry now, preventing them from using these water sources to dip from.

Fortunately the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF) has a work around for the problem of drying up water sources in Nevada, discussing different options:
For example, NDF has the capability to pump water from low-standing sources into portable pools, or ‘pumpkins,’ to pick up and drop on fire lines. 
The Guard’s buckets include pumps that can fill the buckets to capacity when the pumps are submerged in at least 18 inches of water. Those bucket pumps are being used more in drought conditions this year. much of the firefighting this summer has occurred to Nevada's west in California where Nevada Guard aviators have deployed for firefighting missions.
I am glad to have learned that the NDF and the Nevada National Guard have the ability to use some water sources that are too low to be used for conventional dipping. I learned something, which is always a good thing.

The Vertical Magazine article that I cited above refers to using pumps to pump water into pumpkins. I am pretty certain that there are other means to fill the pumpkins, portable water tanks would be one. Another option could be fire hydrants that might be in a reasonable proximity to the wildfire.

I wonder about water sources for the CL 215/415 scoopers. Are some water sources too low for the scoopers to use? Fortunately, I understand that the scoopers can be refilled at tanker bases if need be.  
I’ll try to continue to follow how the drought out West is affecting aerial resources used to fight wildfires and I'll report back if I learn something. In the meantime, I know how hard wild land firefighters in the air and on the ground are working. I know that their families and loved ones miss them. Stay safe everyone.

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