Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A little about Washington State wildfire resources

I continue to write about State level wildfire resources in states where I have spent some time this summer. In early June I traveled to the west coast visiting Washington in the Pacific Northwest and then southern California.

Over the years that I have been writing this blog I have known of many wildfires in Washington and have a great deal of respect for their State wildfire agency, the Wildfire Division of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). The WDNR is very competent, working hard to keep their residents as safe as they can from wildfire danger. They do this with the following resources:
DNR Wildfire is the state's largest on-call fire department, with more than 1,300 employees trained and available to fight fires as needed. This includes more than 800 permanent DNR employees, 500 seasonal employees, about 117 wildland fire engines, eight helicopters and six single engine air tankers, which are under contract with DNR.
Additionally, the Department of Corrections works with DNR on a voluntary Correctional Camps Program that provides job training for approximately 300 inmates while meeting the state’s need for more wildland firefighters and firefighting support. Corrections crew members are able to earn minimal funds while providing cost-efficient support. (obtained from on August 29, 2017)
I learned a little about their helitack program on the WDNR Aviation page, their eight UN-1H helicopters are equipped with buckets to drop water/foam on fires. In addition, they fly helitack crews to remote locations to provide initial attack on wildfires. More information about the helitack program is available on the WDNR Aviation page, and you will want to visit the WDNR flicker page for some photographs. For those of you who are interested in fire aviation, here is a link to a short history of the WDNR helitack program.

Finally, the WDNR has a nice page of wildfire information, including a map, with links for more information on current wildfires.

Next up: reflections on CAL FIRE.

Monday, August 28, 2017

What I have learned about wildland firefighting in North Carolina

I recently spent a long weekend with some friends who live in the mountains of western North Carolina. I found myself interested in what I could find on the web to learn more about wildland firefighting in North Carolina. I decided to spend a little time when I returned home to see what I could find on the web to share with you.

I went first to the North Carolina Forest Service (NCFS) website (that I had bookmarked some time back) and quickly found their fire control and prevention page with oodles of links and information. Those of you who are interested in learning more may want to spend sometime exploring this webpage.

The North Carolina Forest Service is divided into thirteen districts in three regions, information on these regions with a tool you can use to find a district for a specific county may be found here.

I know that North Carolina uses aviation resources to help wildland firefighting crews on the ground, with a vague idea that SEATs and helicopters are used. I hoped to find more specific information and was not disappointed. According to the North Carolina Forest Service Aviation webpage, the NCFS
operates 24 aircraft including 19 fixed wing airplanes and five helicopters. Aircraft are utilized in forest management, fire mitigation and detection, as well as fire suppression and direction of ground forces battling wildfires. Based strategically throughout the state, the response time of these aviation resources to emergencies can be measured in minutes.

A fleet of three single engine airtankers (SEATs) can operate from remote grass airstrips near the fire scene and deliver 500 to 800 gallons of fire suppressant or retardant during an initial attack or in support of ground firefighting forces. 
The N.C. Forest Service operates seven aircraft that are Federal Excess Property and are technically owned by the USDA Forest Service. These aircraft are on loan to the N.C. Forest Service specifically for fighting wildfires and include five fixed wing airplanes and two helicopters. (obtained from on August 28, 2017.
It looks to me like only some of North Carolina's aviation resources are specific to firefighting and I suspect that some do double duty. Based on the information I cited above, I think it is safe to say that there are five fixed wing and two helicopters that are Federal Excess Property owned by the US Forest Service are available for fighting wildfires. I am not sure where the three SEATs fit in, are they Federal Excess Property? In any event, North Carolina has in state aviation resources at their disposal. I am especially interested to read that North Carolina is in the process of transitioning to Air Tractor 802 F SEATs (capable of carrying 800 gallons of retardant or water/foam), scroll down to the bottom of the North Carolina Forest Service Aviation webpage for more information on SEATs and their other aviation resources.

I have to tell you something. As my friends drove us around the mountains of western North Carolina, I have to say that I had a great deal of respect for the ground and air crews of the North Carolina Forest Service. I knew that they were expert in fighting wildfires in their mountains and valleys. I hoped that given the recent rains before our visit that wildfire danger was minimal, but you never know. If there were any wildfires during our visit I did not notice. Which I suppose is a good thing.

Other links of interest concerning wildland fires from the North Carolina Forest Service:

Ground Equipment (with a description of each type of equipment)
Fire Weather with interactive mapping
Photo gallery
Current situation report, current activity and out of state
Current wildfire statistics by district and year to date summary
Number of wildfires (1928 to 2015), pdf file
Causes of wildfires in NC (1928 to 2015), pdf file
Ten year average fire statistics chart, pdf file

I will continue to write about state wildfire agencies in states that I visited this summer. Next up is Washington.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Type 1 Helicopters

Regular followers of my blog probably know that I love aviation, but sadly circumstances prevent me from becoming a licensed pilot. I am fortunate to have pilot friends who take me on scenic rides when their schedules permit and the weather cooperates. I keep a journal of my scenic rides. On November 10, 2014 one of my pilot friends took me a scenic ride to the Pilot's Shop at the Lancaster PA Airport, KLNS. I wanted to pick up some aviation charts and gifts and was happy that my pilot friend accommodated me. We had a nice 45 minute flight to Lancaster. It did not take long to pick up my charts and the gift. We had a cup of coffee at one of the flight services and he flew back to our home airport. My pilot friend had flight following. On the way back the controller came on the radio to warn the pilot about a CH-47 that would cross our flight path, but at a different altitude. I don't recall how far out the CH-47 was, I'd say somewhere between 5 and 10 miles. Anyway, it took a minute or so for my brain to kick into gear to realized that what I was seeing was a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter. Even from a few miles out, I was impressed at her size. As I recall, she seemed to be in military olive drab. The pilot acknowledged that he had the CH-47 in site, and we both safely flew on. I thought about taking a picture, but by the time I got the camera out she was on her way and too small for a shot. Yeah, I know, I know, this may sound like a tall tale. It is not, but I'll leave you to your thoughts. Perhaps one day, I'll get to see a CH-47 up close and be able to take a photograph.

I tell this story because Columbia Helicopters has CH-47 Chinooks that they fly in firefighting configuration. The CH-47 is included in the group of firefighting helicopters known as type 1 helicopters, at least I am fairly confident that the CH-47 is still flown in firefighting configuration as a type 1 helicopter.

As I write this, according to Bill Gabbert of Fire Aviation, there are 28 type 1 helicopters (700 to 2,500 gallon capacity) on exclusive use contract with the US Forest Service with up to 30 more being available on Call When Needed Contracts in 2017.

One of the reasons for this post on type 1 helicopters is to share with you two videos, you will have to go the supplied links to watch the videos (they are short) of what I believe are Sikorsky S61 helicopters (type 1). I was on the inciweb page for the High Cascades Complex of Wildfires (Spruce Lake, Broken Lookout, and Sherwood) which have burned a combined total of 13,655 acres (60% containment) in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in the Medford OR area in southern Oregon. I found both of these videos on the High Cascades Complex Photo page on Inciweb.

In video number 1 you will learn about type 1 helicopters while watching one of the type 1 helos filling her belly tank from her snorkel tube. In video number 2 you will see a couple of Helos filling their tanks from a portable tank aka heliwell. You might want to watch the videos in full screen.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Watching the Eclipse from Sylva North Carolina

The zone of totality for the August 21st solar eclipse passed through western North Carolina (go here to see an article about the eclipse in North Carolina) and I drove down to see some good friends and the eclipse.

I watched the total eclipse from Sylva, North Carolina (population 2,588),  the county seat of Jackson County. Thanks to an invite from some good friends who live about 30 miles away from Sylva, I enjoyed a long weekend with good friends. The capstone was driving to Sylva to watch the total eclipse of the sun on Monday, August 21st.

Sylva did a great job organizing a three-day eclipse festival. They had music on Friday and Saturday nights along with a moonlight fun run on Saturday night. On Sunday night there was a panel on the science of eclipses at a local community college. On Monday, eclipse day, Sylva’s solar eclipse event was held in Bridge Park, a downtown park, started at 11 AM with music. There were food trucks and a stage where a speaker talked about the eclipse at 1 PM. Parking was offsite at the nearby Jackson County Justice Complex with overflow parking across the street. There was a shuttle ($1 each way) from the Justice Center to Bridge Park, located about one-half mile away.

Shuttle Bus

My friends drove to Sylva, a 45 minute drive was over two hours because of heavy eclipse traffic. We each had our eclipse glasses, water, and a chair. We got to Bridge Park about 1:15. All the spots in front of the stage were taken, so we found a grassy spot with a good view of the sun.

We used our eclipse glasses to watch the moon move across the sun. Just before totality (at 2:36 PM EDT) the sky darkened and you could see colors on the horizon. When we saw nothing out of our glasses, we took our glasses off and saw the total eclipse. I feel like any words that I write to try to described the blackened sun with the corona are inadequate. With that in mind seeing the total eclipse was an incredible and awe inspiring experience, one that will stay with me. The best part was being a part of crowd where everyone cheered and clapped when the total eclipse occurred.

Sylva, NC

Bridge Park and Stage

In front of Bridge Park, Sylva NC

My friend summed it up when she spoke of the total eclipse: “that was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen in the sky.”

After totality a little boy said: “that was so cool.”

My friends and I knew that we all seen something special, that seeing a total eclipse was worth the traffic nightmare to and from Sylva. As I traveled back north on Monday and Tuesday through some horrendous traffic in Virginia, my traveling companion and I agreed that the eclipse was worth it.

Added on October 26, 2017: I wrote a final follow-up post on October 25, 2017 with some videos and links to photos, articles, and additional information about the eclipse.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

South Carolina Wildland Firefighters - Spring 2017

I have not been in South Carolina in years but I just returned from visiting North Carolina which adjoins South Carolina on the north. To digress a moment, I was in North Carolina visiting some good friends and we took a trip to the western part of the State on Monday to watch the total eclipse. I don't normally write a travel log on this blog, but I will share about my trip with some photos (not of the eclipse) in a couple of days.

In the meantime, I wanted to get back to our regularly scheduled programming, so to speak, and hope that you enjoy this video about some wildland firefighters working wildfires in the Andrew Pickens Ranger District, Sumter National Forest in South Carolina in the Spring of 2017. Enjoy.

Direct link to video

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse Day is here!

I don't know about you, I am psyched about today's solar eclipse. For those of you who are interested and landed here first, I posted a blog on August 18th with some information and a variety of links. Scroll down a bit and you will see the article.

Hopefully today's weather will be kind and allow me to observe today's eclipse with the safety of my eclipse viewers. I'll let you know in a couple of days how I make out. I hope that you stay safe wherever you are today. If you plan to be driving today at the time of the eclipse, please follow these suggestions from Time Magazine to be safe on the road. Don't wear your eclipse glasses while driving. If you are driving to an observing spot today, allow plenty of extra time and get there early, use your headlights and not your running lights, and pay attention to the road.

Space dot com has a list of live streams covering the eclipse available here. If you are home or otherwise near a Television and want to watch the eclipse on TV, I am pretty certain that ABC and the Weather Channel will have live coverage of the eclipse and I suspect that other media outlets will have live coverage as well.

Two options for watching the eclipse on live stream from you computer or device.

1. NASA has a page with some apps that you may choose from to watch the eclipse on your tablet or smartphone.

2. Livestream from NASA, entry page is here with links to options for Facebook, Periscope, Twitter, UStream, NASA TV, etc.

3. ABC news will have a live stream of the eclipse starting at 1PM EDT, I think that ABC's eclipse live stream may be found here. In addition, ABC news has a page devoted to the eclipse where I found the link to the live stream along with other information.

Added on August 24th: I don't know how long the links that I have referenced will work. So be warned if you are arriving here later and find some dead links or links that no longer reference the eclipse. In the coming days, I will look around for a video of the eclipse to share on this page.

Added on October 25,2017 (sorry this is late)

Direct link to video from Team Greene Real Estate (Rexburg Idaho)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Upcoming Solar Eclipse on August 21st

I don't normally write about celestial events here on this blog, but I am making an exception with the upcoming solar eclipse in the US on August 21st. As a child I was living in Massachusetts, and in the summer of 1963 I do recall seeing what I was told was a solar eclipse. Someone told me, probably my Dad, that the moon would be blocking the sun during the day. It turns out that the solar eclipse that I witnessed that afternoon was not a total solar eclipse, but a partial solar eclipse, more information on that eclipse may be found here. Still as a child, I was awestruck by what I saw.

I am hoping to be at or near an area where the total solar eclipse may be seen on Monday, August 21st. See the map. I'll let you know what I see or don't see. I was fortunate enough to find a few pairs of reputable eclipse viewers from a local store before they ran out. Looking at the eclipse with reputable eclipse viewers can cause blindness, please be safe, please don't be fooled by counterfeit products. Our eclipse viewers are from American Paper Optics, meeting ISO 12312-2 international safety standards for eclipse viewers. These are paper, and I will use them under my eyeglasses. For other tips on viewing the eclipse safely, go to this NASA page.

The National Weather Service has a webpage where you may find out about weather conditions and other facts about the upcoming eclipse, see this NWS website for more information.

A map from NASA of the path of the eclipse and how much of the eclipse you can see over the US and adjoining areas of Canada and Mexico is reproduced below. Some of you might be interested in NASA's explanation of this mapping along with some other products and some history here. NASA's entry page to eclipse mapping is found on this NASA webpage.

Obtained on August 16, 2017 from
If you will be driving around the time of the eclipse, please be safe and follow the suggestions in this Time Magazine article. Allow extra time to get to your observation spot if you are going to somewhere in the path of totality and arrive early!

NASA's entry page to the 2017 eclipse may be found here with links to oodles of information. I suspect that many newspapers have coverage of the eclipse. I'll leave you to your own devices to find coverage in your favorite media outlet, but here is a nice page on the eclipse from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Space dot com has a list of live streams covering the eclipse available here. NASA will have a livestream of the eclipse on Monday with a variety of ways you can stream the eclipse, including facebook, smart phone apps, and NASA TV, the entry page for NASA's eclipse live stream is hereNASA has a page with some apps that you may choose from to watch the eclipse on your tablet or smartphone. Finally NASA has a nice press release about the eclipse and some viewing options that was posted on June 21, 2017.

For those of you who are home during the day and want to watch the eclipse from your living roomI think, but am not sure that the Weather Channel, ABC and the Science Channel are among those networks that will be broadcasting about the eclipse. I don't know how many of you will have the Science Channel but I think that most basic cable and satellite packages include an ABC affiliate as well as the Weather Channel. You might want to check your local listings to verify this and to see about other live eclipse coverage where you live.

The links on this page may only be live up to the day of the eclipse. So, I suspect that some of these links will be no good after the eclipse has passed. However, I'll try to post something about the eclipse, a video and other stories after the eclipse has passed.

On Monday, I will post links to what I hope for where you can go for live streams of the eclipse.

Added on August 24th: Some of the links here no longer work, e.g. the NWS eclipse page is no longer up and the list of live streams covering the eclipse from Space dot com is no longer available. NASA's eclipse page has has different eclipse related information. The two articles I referenced from Time and the Atlanta Journal Constitution are still available but I am not certain how much longer they will be available.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

IMET deployments - early to mid August 2017

It continues to be a busy wildfire season, The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) issued a National Preparedness Level 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5) on August 10th for about four days. As I write this on August 16, the National Preparedness Level is at level 4, still high but not as high as it was. For those of you who are curious, and want to see the current National Preparedness Level, you will want to visit this NIFC page. Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) continue to work wildfires, monitoring weather conditions on their assigned wildfires and conducting briefs to name but a few things that they do. As you can see from the Facebook Post embedded below, IMETs issue lightning alerts.

Here are some recent IMET deployments. IMETS work onsite on their assigned wildfire for up to two weeks. As required a new IMET will be rotated in as an IMET finishes their deployment.

IMET Trainee
Deployed on August 8th

August 4th

August 6th

August 8th

Monday, August 14, 2017

Stories from survivors of the 2003 Cedar Fire (San Diego County CA)

The Cedar Fire, driven by Santa Anna winds burned over 280,000 acres in San Diego County California in late October/early November of 2003. In the first 24 hours something like 100,000 acres had burned. Fifteen people died including one firefighter. 2,232 residences were destroyed, 22 commercial buildings and 566 outbuildings were destroyed. The wildfire was human caused by a lost hunter setting a signal fire.

The Cedar Fire occurred some five years before I got interested in learning about wildland fires and blogging about what I was learning. Memory can be a funny thing, but I am pretty certain that I remember hearing about this wildfire through newspaper and other media accounts.

A friend of mine told me about, The Fire Outside my Window: A Survivor Tells the True Story About the Epic Cedar Fire, by Sharon Millers Younger. It is on my list of books to read.

I was looking for something to watch on TV last night (Sunday, August 13th) and came across a preview for NBC's Dateline Survivor. The show's title was "Inferno" and the description told me that I would hear survivors of the 2003 Cedar Fire tell there stories. Not all stories have happy endings, one family tells of the death of their young daughter. I watched "Inferno" with interest because of my wildland firefighters recommendation of Sharon Millers Younger's book. It turned out that Ms. Younger and her husband were among those who told their stories about surviving the Cedar Fire.

I watched the show with interest because it gave me a view of the experience of surviving an epic fire such as the Cedar Fire. A view that I don't ordinarily get to see. Not a comfortable show to watch, but important for me to watch. I have a lot to think about, and expect that I will have more to think about after I read Younger's book. The two hour shows focuses mainly on the stories of some of the survivors of the Cedar Fire. If you want an analysis or after action report of the wildfire, this is not the show for you.

For those who are interested, here is a link to an NBC site with what I think is the full edition of "Inferno". Note that you will have to disable your ad blocker, if you have one. I had difficulty disabling the ad blocker on Fire Fox but was able to disable my ad blocker on both Chrome and Safari on my Apple Mac. I don't know how long NBC will have this show online for free viewing. I don't know how long the NBC I linked to will have the full edition of "Inferno" on their website. If Dateline NBC has uploaded the show to their Youtube channel (NBC Dateline), I can not find it.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Remembering my friends in Florida and a bad year for wildfires

I came across two videos about the 2017 fire season in Florida. I'd like to thank my friends at the B10 NJ Wildland Fire Page who post new fire videos each week,  your shared both of these videos in recent weeks.

Many of you know that I have a special place in my heart for Florida. I am glad that you have good wildland firefighters, on the ground and in the air who work to keep you safe.

Direct link to video

Direct link to video

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Update: GOES-16 Field Campaign

Sometime on or about March 22, 2017, GOES-16 began a two month period of field testing to calibrate the GOES-16 instrumentation. During this period high altitude planes, unmanned space systems (drones), the international space station, and other satellites were used. The expertise of a variety of personnel were used including but not limited to satellite engineers, meteorologists, and pilots. I wrote an earlier article on this field campaign, including a video, on June 19th.

You might be interested in three articles from the NOAA Satellite and Information Service plus a Flicker page with some still photos:
The latest GOES-R (aka GOES-16) quarterly newsletter with links to archives may be found here, you may also find links to factsheets and a GOES-R overview on that page.

The field Campaign was completed on May 17, 2017 (see p 3 of the 2nd Quarter 2017GOES R (aka GOES-16) Newsletter). The folk at the GOES-16 Field Campaign released a six-minute on June 27th providing more details on what was involved in the field campaign including some images of the earth taken from NOAA's U2 plane used in the field campaign. I think that you will enjoy this video, I know that I did. I found the video on this page on GOES-R dot gov, with a grid showing other videos on the GOES-R/16 mission.

Direct link to video

Monday, August 07, 2017

CAL FIRE may be getting close to a contract for Black Hawk Helicopters

For awhile now, I was wondering if it might soon be time for CAL FIRE to replace their Super Huey helicopters. So, I was very interested to read Bill Gabbert’s August 3rd  article that CAL FIRE is in the process of completing a contract with Air Methods/United Rotorcraft for the Sikorsky S-701 Black Hawk Helicopter. If this comes to fruition, CAL FIRE will replace their Super Hueys with Black Hawks. There is more that has to happen before the deal is finalized, Bill writes:
Before the contract is signed other bidders have the opportunity to protest the award. If one is filed, the final decision will be made by a neutral administrative law judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings. … 
“Even after a contract is awarded”, Chief Pimlott said yesterday, “the number and timing of the State’s orders will be determined on a year-by-year basis. The contract does not commit the State to any specific number of purchases or delivery schedule.”

An August 3rd article in Vertical Magazine by Elan Head offers some details about CAL FIRE’s Request for Proposal:
According to its request for proposal (RFP), Cal Fire anticipates acquiring 12 aircraft over a five-year period. However, as actual purchase rates and quantities may vary, the five-year contract will include an option to extend the contract for up to three additional one-year periods.
You may want to read both articles referenced here for more information, and a couple of photos.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Time for more Helos (Aug 2017 edition)

Regular readers may recall that when I love helicopters, and that I had a good friend who is now flying in favorable tail winds. Matt, I share these helicopter videos in your memory. May you rest in peace. I know that you are smiling on all firefighting helicopters.

Direct link to video

Direct link to video

Direct link to video

Thursday, August 03, 2017

A look inside an Airtanker courtesy of a Tanker Captain

I was checking out yesterday's (August 2nd) Wildfire News of the Day from Mike Archer when I came upon an article with a video on Inside an Airtanker from KDRV Newswatch 12 out of Medford Oregon. In this video you will Captain Ron Minter of Neptune Aviation talk about the demands of being a Tanker pilot. Captain Minter and his co-pilot have had a long season, flying since February 28, 2017. They get one day off a week, at where ever their current base is.

Captain Minter and his co-pilot were flying the Modoc July Complex (just south of the Oregon-California border at the time of the KDRV report, based at Medford (OR) Airtanker Base. Medford was very busy at the time of this report. You might recall that a NWS Incident Meteorologist (IMET) Trainee was deployed to the Modoc July Complex on July 31st. As I write this, the Modoc July Complex has burned 73,735 acres and is at 35% containment. Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today has written about the Modoc July Complex, go to his August 2nd article with links to his earlier articles for more information. You might also be interested in KDRV's August 2nd article on the Modoc July Complex (with a couple of photos).

I could not get the embed code that KDRV supplied with the video to work, I am sorry. That happens sometimes. Here is a direct link to the two-minute video from KDRV, I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to watch the video.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

More IMET trainees deployed to wildfires

Several days ago I wrote about Incident Meteorologist (IMET) Trainees with the help of my friends at the US National Weather Service IMET Facebook page, see my July 21st post for more information on IMET training. I was perusing the IMET Facebook page just now to see what is going on when I saw that three IMET trainees have been deployed to three different wildfires since July 31st. I wish all these IMET trainees deployed to these three fires as well as other IMET trainees not currently deployed safe wishes as you complete your task books under the guidance of an experienced IMET mentor.

IMETs save lives!

On July 31st IMET trainee was enroute to Modoc July Complex; 73,735 acres burned at 35% containment)

On August 1st IMET trainee was enroute to Lolo Peak Fire; 6,302 acres, burned no containment information. Here is a three minute video on Lolo Peak Fire Strategy and Tactics that you might enjoy and another video of an IMET releasing a radiosonde weather balloon last week to collect meteorological data.

On August 2nd, IMET trainee enroute to Sapphire Complex Fire; 12,775 acres at 5% containment