USA – ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Residents from areas where wildfires rage likely feel a sigh of relief when the see air tankers fly overhead. They are big and they can hold a lot of water or fire retardant.
But new research that 4 Investigates found shows the large fire air tankers are expensive, risky and oftentimes not very helpful.
Hollywood has shaped opinions about how wildfires ought to be fought, but projecting how to put out a deadly and dangerous wildfire isn’t fantasy. Too often, there are pressures that force federal agencies to use the most expensive and risky resources and even the wrong ones.
The queen of the sky in firefighting is the DC-10 air tanker. The tankers are able to spread fire retardant or water nearly a mile long. Fire expert, author and historian Stephan Pyne believes these planes are overused and misused.
“You want to find the right tools for the job,”Pyne said. “There are a lot of places where a single-engine air tanker is fine, basically crop dusting fires.”
Research backs Pyne’s argument. A U.S. Forest Service report states “initial attack is the phase in which air tankers are most effective. Our work, however, indicates that extended attack and large fire support currently comprise the majority of air tanker use.”
The expectation has become that unless you see lots of air tankers and lots of helicopters flying or big chinooks and sky cranes, the agencies aren’t doing everything they can and they just aren’t effective in circumstances.
Some of that expectation comes politically. Constituents are accustomed to their leaders making these kinds of statements, like this one from Gov. Susana Martinez:
“I’ve directed our state agencies to work together to ensure that all resources are available to assist in fighting the fire,” she said on July 14.
“We are wanting to make sure that we have the assets that are ready and available,” Martinez said on July 21.
“I can’t fault the politicians,” Pyne said. “If it is your district, your state you want to be seen I’m doing everything imaginable. But it would be nice if we could have the whole public discourse to come to some sensibility. We are doing what is sensible and useful in this circumstance and we are not just indulging in political theater for its own sake.”
It’s not just theater. There are costs and risks. Using a DC-10 hits $14,000 per hour. Research shows in a four-year window, taxpayers shelled out $338 million in flying contracts.
The risk can outweigh the reward. More firefighters have died in the air than on the ground during a wildfire.
“Ultimately, it’s boots on the ground. It’s actual people dealing with the flames,” Pyne said.
For the safest and most cost-effective approach, professional wildland firefighters hope politicians and the public allow them to call the shots.
The forest fire, which started on the night of June 24 and still smoldering in Spain’s southwestern region of Huelva, burned a total of 8,486 hectares, the Andalusian Regional Government said on Wednesday. Environmental spokesman for Andalusia, Jose Fiscal, confirmed the damage on his Twitter account. Over 2,000 people had had to be evacuated from hotels and campsites on the perimeter of the fire, he said. He added that the perimeter established around the fire was actually 10,900 hectares, but within that perimeter, 2,414 hectares of woodland were still intact. The fire damaged two protected areas: 6,761 hectares of Donana National Park, which has UNESCO protected status and is home to around 400 different species such as the threatened Iberian Lynx and Iberian Eagle, and 17 hectares of Laguna de Palos y Madres Nature Park. The Andalusian government believed that had it not been for the work of fire fighters, who at the height of the blaze numbered around 500, the damage would have been far worse for the 43,225 hectares of woods and scrubland. According to the regional government, temperatures were around 40 degrees Celsius when the fire began, with a wind-speed of between 30 and 40 km per hour (km/h) and gusts of up to 90 km/h at night, which helped propagate the flames and made it impossible to use aircraft or helicopters to fight the fire. A total of 50 firemen remain in the zone to continue the work of damping down and to ensure there are no flare ups, while investigations continue into the cause of the blaze. Authorities have not ruled out a human cause. Read full text at: http://eng.belta.by/society/view/spanish-forest-fire-burns-over-8400-hectares-in-and-around-national-park-102857-2017/ If you use BelTAs materials, you must credit us with a hyperlink to eng.belta.by.Tropical peat swamp forests, which once occupied large swaths of Southeast Asia and other areas, provided a significant “sink” that helped remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But such forests have been disappearing fast due to clear-cutting and drainage projects making way for plantations. Now, research shows peatlands face another threat, as climate change alters rainfall patterns, potentially destroying even forested peatlands that remain undrained.
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-peatlands-dwindling-losses.html#jCpTropical peat swamp forests, which once occupied large swaths of Southeast Asia and other areas, provided a significant “sink” that helped remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But such forests have been disappearing fast due to clear-cutting and drainage projects making way for plantations. Now, research shows peatlands face another threat, as climate change alters rainfall patterns, potentially destroying even forested peatlands that remain undrained.