View Full Version : Worldwide wildfires

8th May 2009, 06:46
I noticed on TV this morning that the USA has again got some bad wildfires raging. From what I can see the affected properties are not "cheap".
Now in the light of the continuous USA fires, the recent (last 3 years) fires in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Australia etc, surely either the relevant governments or maybe some wealthy private body could commission an aircraft manufacturer to build, say 20 or even 50 large water bombers? These planes could be used throughout the world for a fee which would surely be less than the financial losses of the fires to a particular country?
Maybe I'm a bit of a dreamer.:sad:

8th May 2009, 06:58

Some say that wildfires are natural and we will be interfering with nature if we stop them all.

Firefighting with airplanes is not cheap and not really effective, only few tons of water or retardant

8th May 2009, 08:51
As a volunteer bush fire fighter in Western Australia I can say that aerial firefighting is not cheap BUT it is effective.

Homes are lost because people with very little knowledge or understanding of bush fires build in unsuitable places, do not protect their property adequately and know sod all about coping with bush fires when they happen.

And that's why it makes the news. Bush fires have been happening since the dawn of time. It's only when humans start to intrude does it become a problem. All bush fires stop without any human intervention, eventually. The trick is to stop them before:

1. anyone gets hurt
2. property is lost or damaged

And in that respect aircraft are invaluable so long as it is the right aircraft, with the right capabilities, in the right place at the right time.

8th May 2009, 09:24
Many of these properties have swimming pools. Why don't they fit a large emergency powered pump and tube system from the pool to spray water from the pool bigtime from a central point on the roof when several temperatures sensors around the walls start registering extreme heat? It wouldn't come cheap, but what is the point of all that water in a swimming pool when it may prevent the roof and walls burning out by being sprayed over the property? Would sucha system prevent ignition of the house? As the flames approached, the automatic pump would start up pressurising metal pipework and spraying through multiple outlets from the roof and walls. It would need a ring main around the house and a beefy pump, but it seems to me it might work.

8th May 2009, 09:31
Interesting theory, but what happens when the water in the pool runs out? You would still have the fire burning nearby so all that would happen is that you would postpone the inevitable.

Might work with riverside properties though.

8th May 2009, 09:42
I hope nature is kind and spares Santa Barbara the worst of it. I remember spending many happy nights at Longboards on Stearns Wharf. I never knew there were so many peanuts in the world!

8th May 2009, 09:52
Evergreen Airlines, a non-sched cargo carrier, built a 747 classic fire tanker a few years ago and was trying to get it certified last I heard. I saw it parked at a major airport, I forget where, not long ago.

It had a very high capacity as I recall. Anyone know the status of that effort?

A fleet of such a group of airplanes as an international firefighting asset is a good idea, I think, available at cost at the invitation of the country experiencing the fire.

8th May 2009, 10:02
Interesting theory, but what happens when the water in the pool runs out?
I would have thought a pool volume of water would be sufficient to spray down a house for several hours until the crisis passes.

8th May 2009, 10:11
Guess it would depend on circumstances, but when you have water being sprayed at around 100 l/min (an average fire suppressant sprinkler flow rate) and will be running at around 4 Bar, you can see that it would need one hell of a size of pool to have enough water to last for a couple of hours and that is before we think of evapouration due to the heat of a wildfire, winds dispersing the water, etc.

8th May 2009, 10:21
100l/min for 2 hours = 12,000 litres sprinkler flow in 2 hours.

Small pool size 8 metres x 4 metres x 1.5 metres depth
= 48 cubic metres= 48,000 litres capacity.

8th May 2009, 10:39
As I say though, you would have to factor in evapouration and wind dispersion so you would need a higher flow rate/pressure. Even fire hoses, at up to 900 l/min, can struggle with a wildfire, as we have seen.

Hmmm, instead of directing the water at the house, why not have the system set so it deluges the fire?.

8th May 2009, 12:17
In a bushfire the fire front normally takes about 10 minutes to pass. Problem solved. However, the main problem is with flying embers before the fire front reaches you. The radiant heat of the fire front is not as great a problem as a burning ember.

There are many homes in Australia equipped with the very system. It's not cheap but can be installed on a DIY basis, and in the majority of cases can work off the mains pressure. It provides a cool cocoon of dampness around the house.

A similar system is used in our fire appliances should we ever find ourselves trapped by a fire front. Sprinklers and a fire blanket and hopefully we will able to have a beer while we tell everyone about the experience.

8th May 2009, 12:25
Personal Experience

We always thought when a fire arrived along the mountainside here in Catalunia we'd stay and fight it, even though in Spain houses are made of stone, rock, cement, bricks etc and don't burn - no wood used in the construction at all, and metal shutters drop down over the windows.

Well, you can't.

1) - Smoke - In August 2000 the fire came along the mountainside towards Mas Fumats, blown by a 100mph plus Tramontana. For over an hour as it approached we were in the path of thick smoke. My wife's asthmatic so she stayed indoors, but my eyes were also burning and stinging. No way could I function in that acrid mess.

2) - Power - the power goes off. Sure we have a swimming pool, and a big portable pump for other emergencies, but we don't have backup power so forget using pool water to fight fires.

3) - Water - domestic water is cut off. This is because in our community every street has supply access for the firefighters, and they get priority.

4) - Evacuation - the police come and evacuate everyone: you don't have a choice.

Good points:

1) Every village here has at least one "dipping tank" for helicopters to fill their water scoops. These are always full, at least the ones I've checked.

2) In summer, two - three small water bomber aircraft are stationed permanently at our local dropzone (Empuriabrava). Choppers arrive from down Girona way as soon as a fire is spotted.

3) In event of a serious fire the large Bombadier water bombers arrive, and if it gets really bad the French send their aircraft over to join them (Spanish and French coordination on forest/scrub/mountain fires is superb, both countries work as one).

Unless you are trained, have professional equipment, large amounts of water, and breathing gear, don't even think about trying to fight a forest fire menancing your own house. It's only money, lives are much more important.

Get out and leave it to the professional fire fighters. And take them a crate of wine or cava afterwards, and say "thanks".

This is the fire going through Mas Fumats, August 2000, poor quality, from a local paper.


8th May 2009, 13:15
Just to clarify, my suggestion included:
Automatic operation using sensors connected in series around the property to detect very high temperatures. Several sensors indicating excessive heat required for automatic operation to prevent spurious 'hot roof in the sun' operation.
Swimming pool water only, no attempt at using mains water which will probably be cut off.
Power supplied by diesel engine/mechanical pump, operation initialised by temperature sensors.

Considering the number of people killed in Australia fleeing their homes, surely it is worth considering staying? The way to do this is in a container buried a foot or so underground in an open area. Worn out shipping containers with manhole (insulated) to the surface, much as for twisters in the US? For the 10 minutes for the fire storm to pass, it will be worth the low expense of installing below the garden. Surely better than being driven to do a runner with your family in a car hoping the way ahead is clear?

8th May 2009, 13:53

You bring up many points. Finally a subject about which I know something. I am a helicopter pilot working with the US Forest Service Helitack units for 9 months each year. (Winter months I do other stuff).

In 99% of cases, people are given plenty of warning about an approaching wildfire. They choose to stay against the advice of fire managers and evacuation orders. Therefore the container in the garden is a moot point. Also, in the case of the Santa Barbara fires and San Diego fires, the homes are built on rock---it would be impossible to bury a container.

Mostly it comes down to "defensible space". If you have a clear area around your home--we can generally protect it. Otherwise NOT.

These are from the San Diego fires in 07--you decide who had defensible space:



As for the sprinkler system: This is widely used already by the USFS for protecting remote areas. In an urban setting it would not be effective. To give you an idea, this is one of my crew-members, (Alpha-Matt, as we call him), in front of a "smaller" fire---do you think a sprinkler will stop this?


To set up a sprinkler system, and wrap a building takes days. One gap in the wrap and it is all over. Here is a building wrap we did in a wilderness area in Idaho in 07. Everything had to be flown in, it took a crew of 7 people about three days to set this up. There is a "pumpkin", (basically a mini pool), hooked up to a pump drawing water from a stream, also hooked up-to a sprinkler system. We also wrapped the building.

This is the fire we were protecting the building from--it was still 12 miles away at this point:


Here is the building--you can see the "wrap" job has begun


This is Christie briefing the Whiskeytown module out at the Root Ranch doing structure protection prior to a recon flight..


LaFawnduh at Root Ranch


Christie sneaking a piece of banana cake--again at Root Ranch--The Lodge had a chef there to take care of us:


This shows a "pumpkin" rigged up to a sprinkler system to protect the buildings when the fire comes through:


Wrapped buildings:




I do not know where the 747 is these days, but the DC10 is used frequently. There is also a lot of old P3's in use:


We also use the Martin Mars:


And SEATS--Single Engine Air Attack:


And in the helicopter side of the house, it can get busy:


All pictures taken by me or members of my crew. I do maintain a "blog" of sorts for those interested in following the adventures of a Helitack unit in the US.

The Adventure of LaFawnduh and crew (http://www.chickenwingscomics.com/forum/index.php?topic=889.0)

8th May 2009, 14:15
Thanks- very sobering! We only get garden bonfires here. I shall get back to the drawing board!

I know it depends on degree of heating and close contact with fire, but how effective is wrap alone (with metal roof) generally? Does the sprinkler system spray direct onto the wrap from under the eaves of the roof or from outside? And does spraying the roof, metal or otherise, help stop ignition?

8th May 2009, 14:27
Another point which isn't as insignificant as it seems. Although Spanish houses don't usually burn, the damage caused by soot has to be seen to be believed. I've known people who've gone out for the day, left the windows open, the fire has gone past sufficiently far away not to have damaged the house, but the interior (and I mean EVERYTHING) is ruined by the soot and the smoke. Believe me it is NOT a simple cleaning job.

My wife just called out from the other end of the room: "tell 'em if you live downwind from a burned-out forest fire, every time it blows for the next six months the house gets filthy inside."

Makes spotting spider-webs very easy ! (I wrote that as my wife says we don't have spider webs inside the house).

8th May 2009, 14:32
I know it depends on degree of heating and close contact with fire, but how effective is wrap alone (with metal roof) generally?

Wrap alone will basically reflect the heat, which is half the battle. It will only protect the property for a finite period of time, and this will be determined by the amount of preheating and the intensity and duration of the surrounding fire.

Does the sprinkler system spray direct onto the wrap from under the eaves of the roof or from outside?

The sprinkler system is not for the building. The sprinklers try to stop the advance of the ground fire---it is a wet line--just like a fire line. It will also stop embers from catching the ground on fire.

And does spraying the roof, metal or otherwise, help stop ignition?

Metal roof--no. For wood shingles, yes. It does need constant water flow though. The advancing fires heat tends to dry out the wood ahead of the actual fire and preheat it, thereby helping ignition.

Captain Stable
8th May 2009, 14:35
<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/P2nSRHbaEH0&hl=en&fs=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/P2nSRHbaEH0&hl=en&fs=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>
GREAT movie!

8th May 2009, 14:54
Another tool we use in wild land firefighting is "burnouts". Basically we do NOT put out fires--we try to control them. The large fires in California for example are almost impossible to put out. We will sometimes burn out areas ahead of the fire, so when it arrives there is nothing left to burn, and hence goes out. These burnouts or "prescribed" fires are normally under control.

Part of forest management is convincing people that fire is natural and that by regular prescribed fires we can maintain a healthy forest and ALSO, gives us a better chance of protecting structures should a wildfire occur.

Now, if only we can convince the Sierra Club...

Here is a video of yours truly flying a drip torch on a prescribed fire on the Idaho/Montana border last year. The drip torch is a 50 gallon drum containing a "napalm" like mixture that is ignited as it leaves the drum. I have a switch which controls when I release the liquid:

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8th May 2009, 14:55
Another thing - I keep thinking of another thing - is the sheer unpredictability of fire. The Mas Fumats fire of 2000* burned from west to east along the mountains, entering our community about 3 p.m. It then disappeared behind the mountain.

About 10 p.m. it reappeared from behind the mountain, now burning east to west. In the photo below taken from a water bomber aircraft, Mas Fumats is the cluster of street lights on the left; the fire has just reached the firebreak, which with the help of our trusty firefighters, held it back. Great guys, we'll be forever in their debt.

* 15,000 people were evacuated in this fire, including campers out on the peninsular who were taken off the beach by fishermen from Roses in their trawlers.


Brian Abraham
8th May 2009, 15:13
The way to do this is in a container buried a foot or so underground in an open area
Some folk in the recent Oz fires had bunkers and results were mixed, an entire family (4-5 persons) did not make it (heat - "baked in an oven" so to speak), others perished due to fire sucking up available oxygen, where as others were more fortunate. See that bunkers being marketed now, in some cases, include a self contained source of breathable gas delivered via face mask. Can attest to soot, we had it coming in under the doors creating a filthy mess and we were some 20 miles from the fire, at least not as bad as the previous fire when the wind was howling and the sky rained burnt gum leaves from the fire 20 miles away.Spooky when midday can be mistaken for midnight.

Jimmy Macintosh
8th May 2009, 17:09
A friend of mine in San Diego bought a new house after the last one was cremated in the wildfires. He was offered a fire prevention system designed for the wildfires.

It's a large tank under the back garden, don't remember the capacity, filled with fire retardent, as used in the fire fighting aircraft. There were 3-5 high capacity nozzles fitted around the property. When the call to evacuate comes you hit a button and the system ejects the entire contents of the tank over the house and yard. Essentially making it fire proof. Nice system but costs about $16000 to refill, much cheaper than building again and clean up is estimated at about 3 days. He hadn't managed to find if his insurance company will cover the cost of refilling or not when we last spoke. Completely worth it as a system, most people here hadn't even finsished rebuilding their homes before they burnt down again 5 years later.

9th May 2009, 01:11
I Live in a ski resort/village. A few of years ago we had a drought/ dry fire prone season. By August the grass on the lot next to mine, which was not yet developed, was so dry it crackled underfoot, you could almost feel the water being drawn out of your skin by the lack of moisture in the air and the shake roofs were pretty well glowing with the heat. Of course our lovely municipality had a hose pipe ban so there was no hope of doing anything about it.

Our community survived with just a couple of fires on the sides of surrounding hills but others were devastated. There were suggestions that the council should organise firebreaks in the surrounding forests as insurance against future risk. Being our council they sent it to committees and employed consultants. By the time the reports etc were back we were late in fall and the panic was seriously forgotten so no objections were raised when little was done.

One of the reports said that our forest was different than those that burned, though having been in both I can't see it. In the last five years since much of the forest around here has been devastated by pine beetle. Basically the tree dries out but stays standing. A couple of fires already this year in such areas have been almost uncontrollable and we had snow until three weeks ago!

We have moved to an older house and rather than being out in the open near the lake this one is in a suburban forest. On the other hand it has a metal roof and is situated on a rock outcrop. We have been around our lot in the last week removing all the dry trees and clearing all the brush away.

As I write there is a video of the DC firebomber working on the California fires. Round here we have seen pretty substantial fires when the Mars have been sitting idle on their lake. There is usually some reluctance to spend the money on them until it is really too late.

One of the things I was most struck about the pictures of the Kelowna fires and the Victoria (Aus) fires was that some houses were left and others were gone, in some places there seemed no rhyme of reason from the pictures afterwards. In amongst the charred ruins were complete hopuses and even trees that still looked green. I think it would be well worth a little investigation, then we could adjust our risk and what we spent to mitigate it with knowledge as opposed to guessing.

What exactly are the factors and what value do they have? I am sure an expert could prioritise them and then we could do cost/benefit on the options.

Roof material
Siding material
Surroundings, forest, dry greenery, vicinity of forest and type.
Reliability of water supply
'Wet down system'
Other combustibles. (Do you keep firewood outside?)

West Coast
9th May 2009, 02:50
Live in the foothills of San Diego, in other words fire central. The best advice was from the poster who said leave it to the professionals. While an evacuee for almost a week during the last big fire, I had a notion of buying one of the man portable pumps that drains from the pool for the next big one. Then I watched a clip of a fireman trying to outrun a finger of fire pushed by a strong gust. If he hadn't made a left turn at the last minute, the fire would have overtaken him and he would have burned to death. Faster than a man could run.

9th May 2009, 03:00
Martin Mars, "Hawaii", sked for standby contract in California, starting 15 June. Sorry. Just a bit late. Not our fault. High winds, high temps, could complicate things anyway.

9th May 2009, 03:12

The best thing I would suggest is asking one of the local fire departments. Most times they will be sitting on standby and would welcome someone stopping by and asking questions. (Specially if you took pizza, or donuts...). Without knowing the exact fuel types you are dealing with, I would suggest the best way to defend your property is defensible space around your home, followed by a choice of roof. You would not have time to put up a wrap--it takes a day or two. There are also fire "retardant" type paints and building supplies available on the market...just use google.


This is the Martin Mars sitting on Shasta Lake during the Norcal fires last year: (Pic taken by a friend of mine).


And the support vehicles:


9th May 2009, 03:27
Thanks Gordy, truly magnificant aircaft.

I don't post pics.

18th May 2009, 12:06
The two single-engined amphib water bombers that are stationed for the summer at the Empuriabrava dropzone (Alt Emporda, Catalunia) just arrived. A sure sign that summer is here.

I'll take some pics and post them later today if they are on the ground when I go down the mountain.

18th May 2009, 17:34
As promised, I took these pictures at Empuriabrava dropzone this evening. You might title it "Ready for the Summer".

Amazing aircraft.

For those who don't know, the Bombers (men) or Bomberas (ladies) are firefighters: a bomba is a pump in Catalan, and like the French (pompiers = pumps) the firefighters are named after their principle weapon against fire.

(Our house is on the mountainside just above the prop on the jump plane right. The urbanisation is right in the path of the every-six-year-fire.)




18th May 2009, 20:14
That has to be a serious contender for the Strange Looking Aircraft award!

Still trying to work out how (and why) it works.

18th May 2009, 21:20
Air Tractor AT-802F

Fire Boss.

Other models often used as crop dusters.

Hopper capacity 400-800 gallons