Saturday, March 29, 2008

VA: St. Mary's fire

The St. Mary's fire on the George Washington National Forest has grown to 4,060 acres. (UPDATE March 30; 4,505 acres) It's interesting the way the media describes the aerial ignition operation. From The News Virginian, an excerpt:
"Instead of rain, a helicopter dropped a hailstorm of ping-pong-ball-sized potassium permanganate – a chemical that, with a delayed reaction of about 10 seconds, started a potent fire – on the east and west slopes of the ridge leading to Route 56. It’s known as a backfire operation, McPhereson said, and it worked to contain the fire.

At the same time that was happening, most of the 121 people involved, from federal and state agencies to local volunteers, were out burning terrain along the road leading away from the bulldozer line, according to Charlie Rudacille, normally with Shenandoah National Park but one of those assisting in controlling the fire.

The helicopter chemical drops, he said, would help prevent big runs with the fires and would lessen their intensity.

In the half-hour it took for the helicopter to drop the many thousands of chemical balls and make its way around both sides of the ridge, visibility was reduced to near-zero as heavy, dark-brown smoke filled the sky and bright orange flames dotted the slopes.

“If it all goes well, in an hour it’ll be boring,” Rudacille said while the helicopter was in the air.

The gusting, 15 to 20 mph winds – blowing the fire northeast, away from the west slope – was a blessing to the firefighters, as were the dry, overcast conditions. But Rudacille was aware of forecasts calling for a chance of thunderstorms later in the day.

“The thunderstorm, and the erratic winds associated with the thunderstorm, would be a problem,” Rudacille said."

InciWeb has more details

The photo of the helitorch (not a "ping pong ball machine") is a Bill Gabbert file photo.

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