American aerial firefighters respond to fires in Chile

American aerial firefighters respond to fires in Chile

15 February 2017

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USA —   US-based aerial firefighting companies deployed assets to Chile in response to an urgent call for aid by the Chilean government to fight a series of devastating wildfires. According to Chile’s national forestry agency, the fires burned some 289,974 hectares (716,540 acres) between January 15-26.

“This is the first time we have dispatched an air tanker outside of North America,” said Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer of Neptune Aviation Services in Missoula, Montana. The company, he explained, sent one of its seven BAe 146 regional jets, which it reconfigured for aerial firefighting. Neptune is slated to have nine by year-end, which will retire the last of its active Korean War Era P2V Neptunes. As former military aircraft, the P2Vs were not allowed to leave the US.

The BAe 146 had been modified with the installation a 3,000 gallon capacity internal tank, and has been engaged in water dropping since it arrived in Santiago on Saturday, February 4, after a two-day trip from Missoula which included five stops and an overnight crew rest in Lima, Peru. Upon arrival, the tanker was immediately repositioned to Concepcion where it has been based for the duration of the contract–which Snyder reported will be “for as long as needed.”

The aircraft was dispatched to Chile with a crew of three pilots—two captains and one first officer—two crew chiefs, and one mechanic who is fluent in Spanish. “This was very helpful, since he was able to facilitate communications between the pilots and the firefighters on the ground, who do not speak English,” Snyder explained.

While the tanker had just come out of winter maintenance, it was sent to Chile with spare parts including wheels, tires, brakes, starters and generator components, for field repair. “The aircraft has done very well, especially over mountainous terrain, since its smaller size enables it to get closer to the fires,” Snyder noted.

He added that as a result of this experience, Neptune Aviation Services has “gained “a tremendous understanding” of what is involved with moving an aircraft, internationally, through multiple countries. “We made some invaluable connections with the firefighting agencies and the National Forest Corporation or CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal), which is contracted to fight fires in Chile and has operational control over our tanker while it’s in-country.”

Chamblee, Georgia-based Helicopter Express shipped three Bell 2051A++s, and a Kaman K-1200 K-MAX to Chile on January 31, in response to the emergency, according to Scotty Runyan, the company’s Vice-President, Government Services. The shipment of the helicopters was handled by Russia’s Volga Dnepr Airways, using an Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft.

”Because of the capacity of the Antonov An-124, there were no issues transporting the helicopters,” Runyan noted. “The only thing we had to do was to take the rotors off, and it was simply a matter of rolling the helicopters on and off the aircraft.”

Upon arrival, the helicopters were offloaded and positioned at Concepcion and Santiago. “We were ready to fly the moment we got to Chile,” Runyan noted. “The Volga-Dnepr employees were really great to work with.”

The four helicopters were accompanied by 10 Helicopter Express employees, which included a primary pilot and mechanic–for each helicopter, along with two management staff members. Also shipped to Chile was a truck-trailer combination for mobile, field level maintenance support.

As Runyan reported, each of the helicopters is engaged in water drops, averaging about six hours of flying per day. One of the Bell 205s is equipped with a 375-gallon capacity belly tank, while the other 205s are using external 324-gallon Bambi buckets. The K-MAX, he pointed out, is equipped with a 680 gallon capacity external Bambi bucket.

While the company’s helicopters have been deployed outside the US in the past, this is the first time they have worked in Latin America.

“There was the language barrier, but we were able to deal with this by hiring local interpreters who worked with our pilots and the firefighters on the ground,” said Runyan. “We also had some logistics challenges with bringing the helicopters to Chile, given the short notice we had.”

Under the agreement with CONAF, the helicopters will operate in-country for up to 100 days. If the contract is extended, Helicopter Express has the capability to extend the stay of two helicopters, with the other two returned to Georgia to begin operations under US Forest Service contracts.

Helicopter Express and Neptune Aviation Services are both members of the American Helicopter Services And Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), the Washington, D.C. headquartered trade association representing the privately operated aerial firefighting industry before the US Forest Service, and other US government agencies with responsibility for wildlands protection.

SINGAPORE, Feb 9 — People in Singapore are willing to cough up nearly 1 per cent of their annual income in order to guarantee the absence of transboundary haze for a year, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have found.

In total, they are willing to pay US$643.5 million (RM2.8 billion) a year — large enough to make a “substantive impact on the problem” if used for land conservation and restoration, the researchers state in a paper published in February’s issue of the journal,Environmental Research Letters.

The paper’s authors, Yuan Lin, Lahiru Wijedasa and Dr Ryan Chisholm, wrote: “Our results indicate that Singaporeans experience sufficiently negative impacts of air pollution (in) their day-to-day life, or personal health during haze periods, that they are willing to trade off personal financial gain for improvements in air quality.”

Transboundary haze is a long-standing problem in the South-east Asian region, largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland as well as companies and farmers in Indonesia using fire to clear land. 

Singapore experienced its worst haze episode in 2015 from September to November, with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting hazardous levels. 

Since then, Indonesia has renewed efforts to prevent fires, although a state of emergency was declared last month in Riau province over forest and land fires.

The economic impact of haze pollution here has been estimated using cost-benefit analysis before, but the researchers said that the figures could be an under-estimate because they exclude impacts — such as non-hospitalisable health effects — that are difficult to infer from economic data. 

The 2015 haze episode was estimated to have cost Singapore S$700 million (RM2.19 billion) in losses.

The NUS researchers surveyed 390 people in public areas from November 2015 to February 2016 on their willingness to pay, should the Singapore Government be able to guarantee good air quality year-round. 

The participants, from various age and income groups, were given options ranging from 0.05 per cent to 5 per cent of their annual income, after they indicated if they were willing to support such a haze mitigation fund.

The average person’s willingness to pay was an estimated 0.97 per cent of his/her annual income. 

However, about three in 10 respondents were unwilling to pay even the minimum option of 0.05 per cent of their annual income.

Wijedasa said that one of the solutions proposed for the haze problem is payments for ecosystem services. 

“This could take the form of richer nations aiding better land management and restoration by making regular payments. 

“Indonesia has estimated that it needs US$2.1 billion to help restore two million hectares of peatland in (the country). They have currently only received US$50 million from Norway and US$17 million from the United States. 

“Could this shortfall be filled by Singapore (and other countries in the region)?”

Tan Yi Han, who is not involved in the study and is co-founder of non-governmental organisation People’s Movement to Stop Haze, said that the findings are helpful and “should motivate the Singapore Government to spend on measures to prevent haze, such as a subsidy on certified sustainable palm oil, as well as aid to support peat restoration and protection efforts in Indonesia”.

His organisation’s survey last year found that more than nine in 10 respondents were willing to pay more for certified sustainable products to help mitigate the haze, Tan said. 

Most were willing to pay 5 to 10 per cent more.

Consumers game to chip in to avoid any haze include Steven Lim, who is in his 40s and self-employed. How much he is willing to contribute would depend on the amount needed to make an impact. 

“Maybe S$10? Multiplied by many individuals, it would be a lot,” Lim said, preferring that the money goes to the Indonesian government.

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El capitán del primer batallón de la Unidad Militar de Emergencias (UME), Emilio Arias, ha descrito como “dantescos” los efectos del incendio forestal en el paraje natural de la Sierra de Gata (Cáceres), aunque ha sido optimista en cuanto a su extinción al darse una situación “bastante favorable” en estos momentos. Fotogalería ALCALDE 11 Fotos La Sierra de Gata, tras el incendio “El incendio se dio por estabilizado y ahora mismo sólo hay pequeños focos que se reactivan por lo que la situación es bastante adecuada para intentar extinguir el fuego”, ha explicado Arias en una entrevista en COPE. Arias ha descrito como “dantesco” el efecto del fuego en una zona “donde el terreno era precioso”. El mando único del Plan Director del Infoex decidía este lunes mantener activo el Nivel 2 de peligrosidad en el incendio de Sierra de Gata ante las previsiones de viento y altas temperaturas. Las mismas predicciones indican que habrá una mejoría a partir de las primeras horas de la noche del lunes, según ha informado la Junta de Extremadura. Más de 200 efectivos se mantienen en la zona. Intentar llegar a la normalidad es “un tanto difícil”, y que ahora hay que hacer valoraciones de los daños El incendio declarado el pasado jueves ha arrasado unas 7.500 hectáreas de alto valor agrícola, ambiental y paisajístico, de ahí que el Gobierno regional haya iniciado ya la evaluación de los daños y comenzado a preparar la recuperación de la zona. El director general de Medio Ambiente, Pedro Muñoz, ha afirmado que el incendio ha causado un “desastre” desde el punto de vista medioambiental ya que ha arrasado miles de hectáreas de pinar, olivar y pastos, además de haber producido cuantiosos daños materiales en algunas poblaciones. La asociación conservacionista SEO/Birdlife ha denunciado que el incendio afectó gravemente a especies amenazadas y a espacios protegidos de la Red Natura 2000, incluidos robledales, madroñales y castañares centenarios. Todo el área afectada es una zona ornitólogica de interés mundial. Por su parte, el alcalde de la localidad cacereña de Hoyos, Óscar Antúnez, ha alabado la participación ciudadana en el municipio para ayudar a los operarios del plan Infoex como “lo bonito dentro de la tragedia” y ha añadido que el “sentir general” de los ciudadanos de Sierra de Gata es de “frustración e indignación” tras el incendio forestal. El alcalde ha señalado que ha podido hablar con los vecinos de la localidad y que los “más afectados” son los que han perdido fincas o casas de campo, sobre todo una familia que ha perdido su domicilio de vacaciones habitual, que era una casa “recién reformada”. Asimismo, Óscar Antúnez ha indicado que intentar llegar a la normalidad es “un tanto difícil”, y que ahora hay que hacer valoraciones de los daños, tanto la Mancomunidad de Municipios de Sierra de Gata como la Junta de Extremadura, para ver qué ayudas se pueden proporcionar y de qué modo, además de cuáles serán los medios disponibles. Por último, el primer edil de Hoyos ha explicado que los vecinos, “más allá de la lamentación”, deben intentar hacer “una vida normal”, aunque ha considerado que es muy difícil “dado el paisaje que tenemos”, ya que casi el 90% del término municipal está calcinado, ha indicado.

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