California’s Wild Fire VS Spain’s Fire
(Available in Spanish here)
(Cover photo – Conair fleet battling a fire near Edmonton in 2010)
A case study:
1- LNU Lighting complex in California (U.S.A.) – August 17th
2- San Antoni, Ibiza, (Spain, and Europe) – August 22nd
Let’s start with some flight profiles on these two wildfires. Each peak represents a drop. Each valley represents the time used to refill water.
California; on the left, the S2-T, landing on land to refill.
Spain; on the right, the Fireboss amphibious scooper, skimming over lakes or sea, not needing to stop.
The graph is self-explanatory, but I will briefly expand on a few points:
1 – In California:
Over a month later, the fire is still active and has burned 375,209 acres, killed five people, injured five people, destroyed 1,491 structures, and damaged another 232. Their fixed-wing philosophy it’s based on Air Tankers that need to perform a runway landing to accomplish a full stop, in order to be loaded with suppressant / retardant.
2- In Ibiza, Spain:
A few hours later the fire was declared under control and extinguished, 17 acres burned, no personal or property damage. No lives lost. It was the result of a joint effort between light helicopters, fire brigades, and Fireboss amphibious scooper, all under a public-private partnership.
This video shows how the fire was tackled in an early stage under a rapid initial attack combined effort.
Sure there is more data and nuances to consider. Even so, the scenarios are not very different, both areas suffer the consequences of the fires and the Mediterranean countries have also experienced real catastrophes in the past.
Still, this article’s central idea stands out powerfully:
“Prevention and rapid initial attack using amphibious scoopers is a more effective way to battle fires than an extended attack using big Air Tankers during unstoppable mega-fires”.
No matter how big and numerous your fleet is, and how much we try to prove right the American cliché, “the bigger, the better.”
The history of the S2-T Trackers is amazing and deserves a lot of respect. But basing an aerial firefighting fixed-wing strategy in 2020, around a 70-year-old tanker design and the use of retardant, in the age of the amphibious scoopers, is the equivalent of still cutting trees down with an ax instead of a modern “Long Reach Tree Felling Vehicle” and chainsaw if you were to manage a wood harvesting corporation (unless you were born in northern Spain, where you can chop a car with an ax in only 2min 🙂
The rest of the fixed-wing fleet is based on “Call When Needed” contracts using large and very large air tankers.
But is it true that the bigger it is, the better it is?
This Reuters graphic has, very well and carefully, been put together to enhance Cal Fire´s fleet capabilities by using spectacular graphics. It is a clear example of the cliché mentioned above in the form of a cherry-picking exercise, twisted to prove the starting hypothesis: “Cal Fire is using the biggest and greatest assets, nothing of what is happening in California has to do with their strategy or organizational factors, as they are using “the biggest and best aerial assets for the effort”. . It all comes as unexpected, unavoidable events; Nassim Taleb’s so-called Black Swans.
Their graphics focus on volume and number of aircraft, but at no time does it speak of two critical concepts in our sector: response time and water delivery rate.
It neither mentions that the S2-T Trackers, which are defined as the agency’s workhorse, are aircraft that were designed 70 years ago and reached their peak usage in the 1980s. Nor that its use has recently been discontinued by Securite Civile in France in 2019, one of the aircraft main supporters, after 40 years of excellent service by the way, and an unfortunate last fatal accident.
In addition to the absolute terms’ capacity, for a fair comparison, more parameters should be considered, such as the above-mentioned water delivery rate and the mission cost.
The counterpart to the information represented by Reuters could be this graphic:
Hmmm…So the bigger the better, right?
Well, if we go to a monster truck show, I am on board with the idea. But if we are talking about effective management of citizens’ resources, fatalities, property loss, risk, and the health impacts resulting from smoke inhalation for weeks at a time, it might be far from being the best strategy. That is an educated way of saying it.
Another one would be: hiring only big aircraft regardless of cost-efficiency, is a shortcut to keep the media, politicians, and society living under the presumption that biggest is safest. It might work with the unspecialized public, but it does not work with those who really are in the business.
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” ―
If anyone is unsure about the agility, tempo, suitability, and scooping performance of the Fire Boss, please have a look at this video.
What could potentially have been, and it was not:
We don’t need to wait for the disaster to happen. We can, and we should, be proactive.
Prepositioning of Fire-fighting assets on sensitive areas during heat waves or expected lighting storms, as it happened in California, is key.
This article expands on this idea.
Settling a wolf pack of Fire Bosses based in the areas of California´s most significant fire potential, to respond to incipient wildland fires within the first hour is a no brainer.
The hell California has been suffering would have been a “perfect” scenario for us Fireboss pilots in terms of scooping suitability.
If you are a committed aerial firefighter and get to see the maps below, there is no way you won’t get frustrated knowing we have not been able to contribute when we could potentially have been of utmost relevance.
Going back to the Reuters graphic and matching costs to the 2 x DC-10:
Simple numbers support the point:
If one DC-10 equals 7 Fireboss in terms of mission cost, the 2 x DC-10 used equals 14 Fire Bosses. According to the distance of the lakes, speed, and average load (650 US Gal), those 14 machines could have dropped 728.000 US Gal in 3 hrs period.
-Planning 2 periods during that same afternoon would double that up to 1.450.000 US Gal, 5.5 Million liters of suppressant (gel water enhancer)
-According to the DC-10 tracks, between the 2 x Dc-10 Ten Tankers, 7 drops were performed, for a total estimated of 245.000 Litters.
-245.000 L is less than 5% of the volume the 5.5 Million liters the 14 x Fireboss wolf pack could have dropped.
Would pre-positioning a group of Fire Bosses made a difference?
Because fires need to be tackled quickly and consistently, not with massive drops every one-hour requiring monster logistics.
This is what we do all the time, help preventing mega-fires, and most of the time we achieve it.
If you have the time, here is another case study of how we have benefited from the Fire Boss in Europe.
So what’s Rapid Initial Attack and why is so effective?
Rapid initial attack it’s a simple concept:
Get to wildfires within an hour of dispatch. Continuously drop suppressant on the fires for hours. Contain and suppress the flames before they grow into bigger disasters.
Use more cost-effective assets, so you can attack under a wolf-pack concept instead of a costly single unit, which is going to help, but never save the world.
The money saved from battling fewer large wildfires can be funneled into forest health management programs that reduce the wildfire threat for years to come:
This is PREVENTION!
And it’s not just me saying it, nor other corporations motivated by their economic interests; science backs it up through the most recent academic studies: Evolving Risk of Wildfires in Europe “Shifting from suppression to prevention – U.N. office for disaster risk reduction.”
After 7 years of research, even this study from USDA Forest Service suggests that the Fire Boss is the most effective aerial asset in most wildfire situations and it didn’t even include cost as a measurement! This other study also goes in the same direction; rapid initial attack.
Shifting from suppression to prevention reduces wildfires’ likelihood, and rapid-attack is the closest we get to prevent devastating mega-fires.
Click here to expand on this approach.
The U.S.A. Fire Boss paradox
All this translates into a strange paradox difficult to understand for a “Spaniard” who has spent the last ten years flying a machine made in the U.S.A. helping to prevent mega-fires in Europe, under a combined quick initial attack system (helicopter / Fireboss), which is becoming the trend worldwide.
-How is it possible that the U.S.A., a great country leading the world, driven by the cutting-edge thinking of their top-notch people in every field of expertise, normally proud and protective of its national product, are missing such an obvious one?
-How could they not benefit from an aircraft made in Minnesota, just a few states away?
-How bizarre is it that many of the recent California fires were just 80 miles from Silicon Valley, the area with the largest concentration of entrepreneurship and technology in the world, yet still stuck on the Status Quo of the last 40 years of wildfire response, under the hollow mantra “the bigger, the better”?
-How many more devastating seasons on the row will we need to shift the existing paradigm, follow other States’ steps which have been proved to be more effective, so the Fireboss will finally get the deserved opportunity in California?
It all sounds very strange, and paradoxically, being cost-effective might not always help, from what I have seen in other scenarios.
Quite a few readers could be thinking that this is none of my business and I’m digging too deep unnecessarily…well, au contraire mon frère, it is mine, yours, and its everyone’s business.
Today is California, tomorrow it may well be your state or country burning.
“That which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees”. – Marcus Aurelius
The harmful consequences of forest fires have a devastating global effect:
- Firstly, it’s estimated that the 2020 California wildfires have already generated more than 91 million metric tons of CO2, according to data from the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED). In an average year, wildfires worldwide burn an area equivalent to the size of India and emit more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than global road, rail, shipping, and air transport combined. Total carbon emissions from forest fires in 2019 rose to 7.8 billion metric tons, the highest since 2002, according to the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED). Only Australia’s fires emitted 409,700,000 metric tons of CO2 in summer 2019. Arctic fires emitted 182,000,000, Brazilian Amazon fires 392,000,000, Indonesia’s fires 360,000,000. Smoke from the deadly wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington has hitched a ride on the jet stream and made it across the Atlantic Ocean, entering the atmosphere above Europe about 5,000 miles away, according to observations from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, a science agency that is part of the European Commission.
- Secondly, smoke from forest fires kills approximately 340,000 people each year – one-third of COVID-19 fatalities so far. See study. Another study published in 2018 in the Journal of the American Health Association looked at over a million emergency room visits during the 2015 wildfires in Northern and Central California. It found that on days with more wildfire smoke, there were more ED visits for cardiovascular diseases and the risks were greatest among seniors older than 65.
- Thirdly, and most importantly, an average of 300 deaths each year due to forest fires, in recent years, these numbers are even significantly higher. In 2017 in Portugal alone, on two occasions, nearly 100 people died. I was there myself, battling fires from the front line as seen on this video. The material and immaterial losses of those who survived forest fires are indescribable. They will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Although California’s circumstances must be more complex, I might be simplifying things and surely missing pieces of information, sometimes, that’s the root of the issue. We overcomplicate and overthink, aggravated by dogmas, long term paradigms, and hidden economic interests.
“The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas. It may be said even that the modern world, as a corporate body, holds certain dogmas so strongly that it does not know that they are dogmas” G.K Chesterton.
The German physicist Max Planck, said once that “science advances from funeral to funeral,”
In other words:
“A new scientific truth doesn’t convince its opponents and makes them see the light, but rather because their opponents finally die, a new generation is born and is more familiarized with the new reality”.
Nowadays I prefer another saying:
“The secret of change is to focus all of our energy, not fighting the old, but building the new”.
In conclusion, U.S.A. it’s a world-leading great country that has the required technology, assets, financial and human capital.
As simple as that.
Let’s move on!
I am a Fireboss pilot, and I admit my own biases influence me. Among these biases is the hindsight bias; although my heart goes out to those who leave their skin fighting fires, the truth this time is that I write these lines from the comfort of my home once everything has passed. Perhaps I might also be falling on the affinity, framing, and self-serving bias.
But as real as my biases (which we all fall into, with more or less awareness), is the fact that my modus operandi is governed by my values, life philosophy, and my professional ethics.
I own my standards, and if I find a corporation aligned with my philosophy, bingo! I provide my services, and we establish labor synergy under a WIN-WIN framework.
Currently, I cooperate with a corporation as a Fireboss chief pilot and chief instructor, I am the father of a family, Spanish citizen, and inhabitant of the world, so what is happening to the other side of the Atlantic at 5400 miles does not leave me indifferent. I consider I have the moral right to have an opinion. And I have the assertive right to change my mind and apologize if some of my statements are proven wrong or inaccurate.
I am financially independent of the flying. I certainly don’t need to endorse products or ideas that I don’t firmly believe in.
I work globally as a consultant for the aerial firefighting industry, driven not by money, but by three fundamentals:
- The emotional imprint that my father left on me (aerial firefighter from the ’70s who died when I was 8).
- The feeling of having a purpose while protecting people and society.
- The self-imposed responsibility of leaving a legacy; a safer scenario to the future generations as well could be my son.