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State firefighters rejected air drop request for Cedar Fire

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  • State firefighters rejected air drop request for Cedar Fire

    With BC-Cal Wildfires, Bjt
    AP Photo CARF102-103
    By JUSTIN PRITCHARD
    Associated Press Writer
    SAN DIEGO (AP) - The first helicopter pilot to see the patch of
    flames that would become the catastrophic Cedar Fire radioed for
    aerial water drops, but state firefighters rejected his request
    because it came minutes after such flights had been grounded for
    the night.
    Within hours, the flames cascaded out of control and killed 13
    residents between the mountains east of San Diego and the city. It
    eventually became the largest wildfire in California history.
    Southern California was already besieged by flames Saturday
    evening when the San Diego County Sheriff's helicopter went to
    search for a lost hunter who allegedly lit a beacon fire.
    Pilot Dave Weldon told The Associated Press on Thursday that he
    saw state firefighting planes on a nearby airstrip as he approached
    the mountains at 110 mph. He called down for help because his
    dispatcher had relayed reports of smoke in the area, but got no
    response.
    That was around 5:45 p.m. A few minutes later, he spotted smoke
    from the fire, then only about 50 yards on each side and not
    spreading.
    As he steadied his helicopter against wind gusts, Weldon's
    concern mounted. Just before landing, he called for backup, asking
    another county helicopter to speed to the scene with its 120-gallon
    water dump bucket. And he urged the dispatcher to contact state
    firefighters and renew his request for air tankers.
    The problem was that under state safety guidelines, no flights
    are allowed to go up into waning daylight. On Saturday, the cutoff
    was 5:36 p.m., said Capt. Ron Serabia, the CDF official who
    coordinates the 12 tankers and 10 helicopters now battling the
    272,000-acre blaze.
    The sun set that day at 6:05 p.m.
    The helicopter with the dump bucket flew within five miles of
    the fire, before state officials told it to turn back. The air
    tankers never took off. Weldon was told crews would attack the fire
    in the morning.
    "We were basically just offering our assistance fighting their
    fire, and they turned it down," said Weldon, who with his partner
    delivered the hunter to law enforcement officials, who cited him
    for setting an unauthorized fire. "I was frustrated about it, but
    I wasn't surprised."
    Weldon said the county helicopter wouldn't have been allowed to
    drop water after dark and said that it alone couldn't have done the
    job, but he thought a well-placed drop from the air tanker might
    have extinguished the flames.
    On Thursday, California's top fire official said he was not
    aware of the events and cited state night-flight restrictions.
    "If the air tankers and helicopters cannot safely fly based on
    daylight, they cannot respond," said Ray Snodgrass, chief deputy
    director of the California Department of Forestry. "We certainly
    don't want to kill any pilots."
    The call from the county dispatcher came minutes after pilots
    had left the airstrip in Ramona for the night, Serabia said.
    Serabia was off Saturday, but said that if word had arrived
    sooner, a plane could have dropped 3,200 gallons of chemical
    retardant within eight minutes. What's more, pilots might have
    slipped in a second flight because once a plane is engaged, it can
    fly up to 30 minutes after cutoff.
    "The aircraft would have been able to suppress the fire, or at
    least hold it in check," Serabia said.
    Still, he said hindsight was pointless.
    "It's easy to say 'What if we did this,' or 'What if we did
    that,"' said Serabia, a 35-year veteran firefighter. "I'm not
    going to second-guess it. That's what we have to live with - what
    happened, what transpired from that point after cutoff."
    The rules may help save pilots, but they were cold comfort to
    the son of one man who died hours after the county helicopter was
    called off.
    Stephen Shacklett was killed shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday when he
    tried to race away from the flames in his motorhome.
    Told of Saturday evening's events in the air, his son was
    incredulous on Thursday.
    "The hugest fire in California history," said Stephen
    Shacklett Jr., "and they had a chance to put it out."
    ---
    Associated Press Writers Kim Curtis and Elliot Spagat
    contributed to this report.
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

  • #2
    As Homer would say D'Oh!
    AKA: Mr. Whoo-Whoo

    IAFF Local 3900

    IACOJ-The Crusty Glow Worm

    ENGINE 302 - The Fire Rats

    F.A.N.T.A.M FOOLS FTM-PTB

    Comment


    • #3
      Do tankers not fly at night or just during twilight?

      Comment


      • #4
        "If the air tankers and helicopters cannot safely fly based on
        daylight, they cannot respond," said Ray Snodgrass, chief deputy
        director of the California Department of Forestry. "We certainly
        don't want to kill any pilots."
        The rules are there for a reason. If the air tankers and helicopters would have taken off, and something would have happened, we'd all be sitting here calling for somebody's head because the rules that were set in place were not followed.
        The rules may help save pilots, but they were cold comfort to
        the son of one man who died hours after the county helicopter was
        called off.
        Okay, so it would be okay if a pilot died, doing something that may or may not have helped.

        Stay Safe

        Comment


        • #5
          There's always hindsight & what-ifs. Rules where followed, sure seems reasonable.

          I'd imagine the prohibition on night flights is for visibility -- hmmm, smoke & mountains already, not sure adding darkness to that is a good combo!

          Now, could there be a positive spin to this? Sure. I don't see why you couldn't use this as impetus to seek better night-flying technology. That may, um, take money for the technology, and maybe you need a bigger crew and/or fewer planes flying to do it safely. Your whole air fleet doesn't need to be night capable, but a couple planes out of a dozen wouldn't be unreasonable.
          IACOJ Canine Officer
          20/50

          Comment


          • #6
            Monday mornings are for quarterbacks .....the rules are there for a reason ....safety of the crews!
            IACOJ Membership 2002
            {15}

            Mike IAFF

            The beatings will continue until the morale improves

            Comment


            • #7
              Not just the flight crews. I have talked with guys who were hit by retardent drops, and it is not fun. It can kill you, if you get hit by a clump. And the plane that crashes tonight is never available again to help out.

              Comment


              • #8
                The issue is that the plane/helicopter was withing 5 miles of the site with a load of water travelling at 100 + miles/hour or so and was recalled... I guess the question is....how many more seconds would it have taken to drop just one load of water?

                I know the rules are there for a reason....and I am not questioning the rules as they are. Had the plane been on the ground it would be a different story. They were less than a minute away from a fire that was described by the S.O. Deputy as less than 1000' square and moving very slowly.

                Dropping the water on the crews was not an issue because as it sounds this was during the incipient stages of the fire and there was no fire force there.
                09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
                ------------------------------
                IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
                "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
                BMI Investigator
                ------------------------------
                The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Same kind of BS the Army has fought for years and years. The aviators want to head for the club at 1700 and cry crew rest, crew rest. Just dang inconvient to be working when beer call sounds.

                  But when someone with a pair tells the aviators what they are going to do they go do it in great fashion. They plan the operation, including GROUND COORDINATION and do it safely. How many grass/forest fires shoot back? Any restrictions on light discipline pertinant? Most of the rotary wing pilots likely came out of the military.

                  No new technology required. Military aviators are flying every night using night vision devices. Train on them and accept that "accidents" (crashes) are in the ship happens category. Life ain't safe.

                  You want to keep the birds safe don't ever fly them. They will never get a scratch on the paint. Then you can sell them as in "like new condition".

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by neiowa
                    Same kind of BS the Army has fought for years and years. The aviators want to head for the club at 1700 and cry crew rest, crew rest. Just dang inconvient to be working when beer call sounds.

                    But when someone with a pair tells the aviators what they are going to do they go do it in great fashion. They plan the operation, including GROUND COORDINATION and do it safely. How many grass/forest fires shoot back? Any restrictions on light discipline pertinant? Most of the rotary wing pilots likely came out of the military.

                    No new technology required. Military aviators are flying every night using night vision devices. Train on them and accept that "accidents" (crashes) are in the ship happens category. Life ain't safe.

                    You want to keep the birds safe don't ever fly them. They will never get a scratch on the paint. Then you can sell them as in "like new condition".

                    And you know this because?....... Are you a pilot or a General.... Explain your assine comments please.
                    IACOJ Membership 2002
                    {15}

                    Mike IAFF

                    The beatings will continue until the morale improves

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Sure bet of the week.

                      The airwaves will be filled Sunday morning with "experts" saying how bad CA screwed up the initial stages of the fires. The insurance cos. will scoop up these "experts" for purposes of subrogation against the state.
                      PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Air Tanker Pilots say "Unbelievable!"
                        God bless 'em all.....our firefighters in the skies!

                        SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP ) - In two decades of fighting fires
                        from the sky, air tanker pilot Peter Bell had never seen anything
                        like the vortex in the Southern California skies this week.
                        "There was a big spiral, like a tornado, that sucked all this
                        dirt and garbage into the sky," he says.
                        Windshields on six tankers were cracked by the debris, and
                        cockpits filled with smoke. Another pilot saw a 4-by-8 foot sheet
                        of plywood sail past at 1,500 feet.
                        Thirty-five air tankers - and 86 helicopters - have been
                        attacking flames since the wildfires started in Southern California
                        on Oct. 21. Their key role has been to dump their $3,000 loads of
                        retardant on the outskirts of the fires to help crews build
                        firelines around the flames.
                        To many of the pilots, the fires that have ravaged Southern
                        California this week are among the most intense they have ever had
                        to fly through.
                        Usually, airtanker pilots are employed to douse small fires
                        before they spread. Here, pilots are being forced to fly through
                        narrow canyons, thick smoke and high winds. Earlier this week, the
                        amount of wind-swept debris they were encountering prompted pilots
                        to begin asking for reconnaissance planes to fly ahead of them on
                        missions.
                        "People think we're daredevils, but we're not," said Bell, a
                        pilot from Missoula, Mont., working under contract for the U.S.
                        Forest Service. "All we do is practice safety, safety and
                        safety."
                        In a 270,000-acre wildfire in San Diego County, the state's
                        largest blaze, flames sent hot air into the atmosphere, while
                        cooler air alongside the flames pushed down, creating a wind shear.
                        "It's like driving a car over a plowed field," said California
                        Department of Forestry Capt. Ron Serabia.
                        Serabia and other pilots flying missions throughout Southern
                        California said they were stunned by the damage caused by the
                        blazes: "It looks like the surface of the moon. There's not a
                        stick of wood."
                        "Have you ever seen pictures of Hiroshima? That's what it looks
                        like," said tanker pilot Jim Cook.
                        The job has risks even during lesser fires.
                        Two pilots died earlier this month when an air tanker just like
                        the one Bell flies crashed in the San Bernardino National Forest,
                        where Bell has been working this week. It was the eighth air tanker
                        crash in the United States in the past decade, according to the
                        National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Sixteen people
                        have died.
                        Three crew members were killed in a June 2002 crash near Reno,
                        Nev., when the wings fell off a 1957-model C-130A tanker as it
                        dropped retardant. The next month, a wing snapped off a P4Y-2 air
                        tanker near Estes Park, Colo., killing both crewmen. Those two
                        types of tankers have been grounded by the Forest Service and
                        Bureau of Land Management.
                        The nation's fleet of air tankers includes Orions, DC-4s, DC-6s,
                        and DC-7s and P-2V Neptunes, owned and operated by private
                        companies under contract with the Forest Service or state forestry
                        departments.
                        Only about 12 tankers can fly around any single fire without
                        creating gridlock or risking a collision, said Fred Batchelor of
                        the California Forestry Department.
                        On Thursday, dense fog kept planes grounded most of the day in
                        the San Bernardino region. On Wednesday, it was thick smoke that
                        kept them down. Earlier in the week, 30 mph Santa Ana winds off the
                        desert made it useless for them to even attempt dropping fire
                        retardant.
                        The planes do not directly save homes. Pilots said their heavy
                        load of retardant could do more damage to a house than a fire
                        would.
                        At a Forest Service air tanker center in San Bernardino, where
                        the planes make 25-minute dashes in and out of a blaze dozens of
                        times a day, shaded bleachers have been set up for observers.
                        "They're big and they're loud," said David McCallum of
                        Riverside, who stopped by to watch on Wednesday. "I love the
                        concept of these operations, the work, the activity, what's
                        involved. It's all very exciting."
                        ---
                        Associated Press Writer Kim Curtis contributed to this report.

                        Need they say more? This was posted on another thread. Not something I'd want to run into in the night. I know I know, it hadn't progressed that far yet but just to show an example as to why the rules are there.
                        IACOJ

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Ltmdepas3280

                          Having used NVG's (Night Vision Goggles) on the ground, I can help out a bit here, any strong light source causes them to flare, reducing visiblity to zero, or useless.

                          Now we are flying along happily and we crest the little hill and fly straight towards.... The 50 foot wall of flame 2 miles wide.

                          Oh sure, I can see where the fire is now.

                          Its a no brainer. The risks are to high for spatial disorientation close to the deck. As soon as you are out of the fires light, you have to get the NVG's back on, let the flare effects wear off your eyes, orient yourself and aircraft, then fly back for more retardant.

                          No Thanks, that is a fast way to kill people. The only thing you can do is have reconnaisance planes flying high and warning on fire directions etc.
                          Psychiatrists state 1 in 4 people has a mental illness.
                          Look at three of your friends, if they are ok, your it.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            George....I am 100% sure you are right on target with this one.

                            Ladycapn... I read that story and certainly echo your thoughts as far as:
                            Not something I'd want to run into in the night.
                            It just bothers me a bit that they had to be able to see the fire when they were turned back. One has to wonder and keep wondering just how many more minutes it would have taken for that helicopter to dump it's load of water and return. Would the time it took have still allowed it to land before dusk? As the story indicates, it was clearly still daylight when they turned back.

                            Yeop...rules and SOGs are rules and SOGs as they are written....but one would expect that supervisors can justifiably modify behaviors when it is prudent to do so...

                            They did what they did because it was the rules. I am not faulting them for obeying the rules, but one has to wonder why there is no flexibilities in emergencies?
                            09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
                            ------------------------------
                            IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
                            "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
                            BMI Investigator
                            ------------------------------
                            The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              My experience on the Rodeo-Chedeski fire last year was: NO. The Forest Service/Feds are locked into minimum risk to life policies. Even if the pilot has asked to continue the flight, they most likely would have denied him.

                              BTW, I have flown (as an observer) with NVG and FLIR, NVG do not see through smoke, FLIR (Thermal) does, but I would hesitate to risk lives or assets on them in a fire, with all the erratic winds. A tough call, but the Law Enforcement unit I was in lost several aircraft (and some officers) in clear, daylight, conditions, let alone what could happen at even a small fire.

                              Are we forgetting the "Risk a lot to save a life, risk very little for property" motto? Only with hindsight do we know this would turn into a major fire, with fatalities.

                              Comment

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