Monday, September 22, 2008

Wildfire news, September 22

San Diego helicopters cleared for night flying

From the La Jolla Light:
Cal Fire and the city of San Diego inked an agreement today clearing the city's two emergency-services helicopters to fight fires at night in the 1.1 million local acres served by the state agency.

The agreement, signed by Cal Fire Chief Howard Windsor and San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, exempts the SDFRD aircraft - Copter 1 and Copter 2 - from a regulation that had prohibited their use in firefighting operations on land under state jurisdiction.

City air crews have been taking part for years in fire-suppression and search-and-rescue efforts across the county, often after dark. Under the new agreement, they will be available to do the same in Cal Fire's service areas, which encompass much of eastern San Diego County, from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Riverside County line, according to Cal Fire Capt. Nick Schuler.

The locales in question include such wildfire-vulnerable communities as Julian, Ramona, Santa Ysabel, Warner Springs and Valley Center. The vast expanses of Cleveland National Forest, however, remain off-limits for the municipal helicopters, Schuler said.

The city air crews are able to fight fires at night through the use of state-of-the-art night-vision equipment that requires special training and certification, SDFRD spokesman Maurice Luque said. The same kind of technology allows military pilots to fly sorties after dark in war zones, he said.

The new city-state arrangement is "just another option, another tool to be used in the event of fires breaking or night or at dusk,'' Luque said.
HERE is a link to a video about night flying.

Mobile dip tanks for helicopters and engines

A company in California has developed mobile water tanks that can be used to refill helicopters buckets or helicopters with snorkle-filled tanks. Large dip tanks have been around for a while, but most of them use plastic or fabric to hold the water, and they can take a while to set up, take down, or transport. These tanks are mounted on wheels and can be operational in minutes.

The 7,500 gallon "mobile reservoir" can be elevated about 20 feet with the push of a button so that it can gravity-flow water into engines. The "heli-troff" can hold 6,400 gallons and has a swimming pool light inside to make it more convenient for night flying helicopters.

The tanks have been on contract with Cal Fire since 2005, but oddly have not been used at all this year, in spite of the Siege of '08. The company's web site is HERE, but be warned, you'll need eye protection to view it. It's a little overwhelming and cluttered.

Ikhana Resumes Fire Mission Flights

NASA's Autonomous Modular Scanner mounted on the Ikhana remotely piloted aircraft captured this thermal-infrared imagery during two passes over the Hidden wildfire during a flight over the southern Sierras about 30 miles northeast of Visalia in Central California on Sept. 19, 2008. This false-color, three-dimensional image shows unburned vegetation in green, smoke and bare areas in bluish-white and fire hot spots in yellow and red, overlaid on a Google Earth Digital Globe terrain image.

Click on the photo above to see a larger version.

From NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center

Wildfire Today covered the Ikhana previously HERE.

Wireless sensor network to use electricity from trees to detect fires

Researchers at MIT will soon test a network of sensors in a forest that will detect temperature, humidity, and the presence of a fire. Ultimately four sensors per acre would be installed. These sensor networks have been proposed before, including one that involves mobile firefighting robots, but the difficult part is replacing batteries in remote locations. The MIT researchers claim they have developed a method for harvesting electricity from trees, yes, from trees, enough to keep batteries charged.

The system produces enough electricity to allow the temperature and humidity sensors to wirelessly transmit signals four times a day, or immediately if there's a fire. Each signal hops from one sensor to another, until it reaches an existing weather station that beams the data by satellite to a forestry command center in Boise, Idaho.

Colorado: lawmakers consider requiring counties to have wildfire preparedness plans
A committee of state legislators studying the wildfire threat in Colorado is proposing a requirement that all counties have wildfire preparedness plans and is looking to put $50 million over five years into wildfire mitigation efforts.

The money would be used to reduce forest fire risk not only on state and private land but also on federal land, an arrangement that state Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, called "unprecedented."

"We will really be able to make significant dents into the problem that exists and the public safety challenges that exist," Kopp said.

The committee, which wrapped up its work this month, also is proposing bills providing incentives for people to become volunteer firefighters and for businesses to harvest trees killed by bark beetles. The panel plans to introduce the bills early next year when the legislature starts its work again.

However, the committee declined to give its support to a proposal that would have created special building code requirements for homes and subdivisions being built in the "wildland-urban interface" zone, the area most at risk for a catastrophic wildfire and where more than 300,000 homes already exist in Colorado.

A number of mountain communities already have wildfire plans, said Andy Karsian, a legislative liaison with Colorado Counties Inc. The bill that the committee is proposing not only would provide standards and guidelines for those plans, but it also would ensure those local plans are coordinated.

"This is a good opportunity to solidify all those plans under one umbrella on the county level," Karsian said.

Terry McCann, a regional spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said the agency also supports the committee's efforts.

Demonstration of fire clearance, using matches

Everybody at some point has played with matches. Mike Dannenberg of the Bureau of Land Management, a fire suppression supervisor in Montana and the Dakotas, puts on a presentation about residential fire preparedness that involves hundreds of them. The article at wvmetronews.com has more deatails as well as a series of photos. Here is an excerpt.
"I liken it to building in a flood plane," said Dannenberg. "If you thin around your house, if you reduce the fuel load, if you build out of materials that are not combustible a lot of times it will protect your home."


Dannenberg has created a demonstration model to show the intensity of a canopy fire. He loads a pegboard with hundreds of match sticks. Each match represents a highly combustible evergreen tree. A road snakes through the middle of the model forest. The upper corner of the board features a homestead with a house, garage, and various outbuildings. The scene is created to the specs recommended by the BLM. Each building is covered with a metal roof and the yard space has only sparse and wide spaced trees.

Dannenberg tilts the board to replicate the speed of a fire moving up the slope of a hill or mountain. He lights a single match at the far end of the pegboard and at the foot of the simulated hill. The fire spreads rapidly, but stops short of the home--leaving it untouched. It's an effective demonstration that Dannenberg says plays itself out every summer in the western United States.

Professor Awarded NSF Grant to Study Global Warming Effects
The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $378,616 to Eastern Kentucky University to examine the potential impact of climate change on fires and the ecology of forests in northwestern Asia and compare that to recent research suggesting climate change has altered fire regimes in the western U.S.

“Collaborative Research: Fire, Climate and Forest History in Mongolia,” is directed by Dr. Neil Pederson, assistant professor in EKU’s Department of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Amy Hessl of West Virginia University, Dr. Peter Brown of Rocky Mountain Tree Ring Research in Fort Collins, Colo., and Dr. Baatarbileg Nachin, head of the Department of Forestry at the National University of Mongolia. An additional $191,138 was awarded to WVU on behalf of Hessl, bringing the NSF grant total for the project to $569,754.

“This project will examine relationships between wildfire and climate over the past four-plus centuries, from the steppes of the Gobi to the taiga forests of northern Mongolia,” said Pederson. “Mongolia’s landscape, land-use history and recent history of rapid climate change make it an ideal test case for an examination of the relationship between wildfire and climate.”

The study will increase understanding of how wildfires affect forests within the context of climate change, past, present and future. It will also complement a growing global-scale database on fire, climate, and forest histories that will assess the potential impacts of climate change on wildfires.

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