Friday, August 12, 2011

We're Burning Up!

The view from our terrace at midnight
Just 1/2 mile from our house, the crackling noise of close-by fire made for a restless night of sleep. This whole week has been filled with fire and fire aircraft.  This fire burned all Wednesday night pushed by strong winds. Other fires burned on the road to Scalea and up into the hills.  

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I used to love to fly in or work around aircraft related to wildfires in America. I figured I would miss that part of my job but lo and behold, there is more than enough fire aviation around me here to keep busy (with a camera anyway). Someday when my Italian is better I’ll look into begging a ride on a Canadair tanker with the fire service, Protezione Civile:
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Vince hated the planes flying so low over the house

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Vince the dog has become neurotic about fireworks and low flying aircraft in his old age– just all of a sudden, so for four days he shook and panted and followed us around till we were all crazy. I suspect at least one plane will return today for further mop-up since they don’t use many ground crews.
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It looked a bit less scary at daybreak

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Monday afternoon I saw a fire was burning on both sides of the highway about ½ mile away. This is just below a small park-like stand of eucalyptus and pine trees and I figured that someone had started another fire to promote mushroom growth. Earlier the same day I watched a small fire east of here started along a road probably by a cigarette. Remember that 99% of the fires in Calabria are human caused. Many people smoke and many of those are careless. The bulk of fires (I’m told by locals) are arson.  They are fires started by rural folks to promote mushrooms or to improve grazing for the goats and sheep. American Indians did the same thing, but burning someone else’s land is not nice these days.
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Seldom does anyone takes ground action because apparently they have no decent equipment or training.  Here, they wait for the air tankers who perform the role of incident commander and initial attack force. They do it all. Two Canadair tankers were the first to arrive at 1800 and I walked up above the cemetery to watch. The fire was creeping downhill toward the village. We have very light, flashy fuels everywhere which means the pine trees and even many eucalyptus remain alive while brush and grass burns. There is no intense concentrated heat from these fires overall.  
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The tanker pilots are extremely good and gutsy as witnessed by their proximity to powerlines, houses and the ground.


This is the first time I’ve seen Air Tractor planes in action.   In the States, these are called Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATS), basically a turbocharged crop duster configured for fire fighting. These have pontoons to land in the sea like the Canadairs. The website http://www.airtractor.com/at-802f says they can gather 800 gallons in 30 seconds, but I think they have to land, stop and drop a tube into the water since they sit a ways above the water, and their turnaround time was about 20 minutes compared to 7 min for the larger planes. Anyone know how they fill? 
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Lots of low level flying.  That close to the tankers, I discovered a cool thing. 



Fluffy stuff was in the air after a water drop and I determined it was foam from sea water. I think the agitation of sucking up the water must create the foam that floats down after the water. A little landed on my arm so I could taste it.  


US Forest Service aviation managers would not like helicopters carrying water buckets right over our terrace in town, nor maybe the tankers at 2-300 feet over homes and downtown Scalea. 


The same Americans would likely frown on this separation between a climbing helicopter and a descending air tanker.  Shoot, there must have been at least 200 meters – no sweat for Italian pilots!! I wish I could listen to the chatter between the aircraft when there were 4 tankers and a helicopter running around together. 
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On Tuesday they returned at 0600 and worked fires until 1930 again. A full day of flying. The planes worked till dark.  A single Canadair returned Wednesday to mop things up. Total burned area I estimate at 1,500 acres. 
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Wednesday night mother nature took over and switched the winds to the north and increased them to 20 mpg with gusts to 35. This pushed all the existing fires back downhill and chaos was made overnight. The big fire reached the edge of Scalea 3 miles away and stopped around the Bellavista Restaurant if you know where that is.  2000 more acres. The suspected cigarette fire mentioned about was never dealt with, so it took off and damaged about 2000 acres as well.  There were 4 other fires in sight.
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Fortunately these fires did minimal property damage. In a recon Thursday morning I only found 6 shipping containers (full of merchandise) that were burning in our business park. This added another day of flying for the Canadairs. I wish I could hear the comments from the first pilots that arrived to find a basic war zone in the Lao River basin – “OMG, where do we start?”





Vince and I need a break. Di pulled me in Thursday PM and closed the shutters against the ashes that were coming into the house.  Yes, there is a plane here this morning, but maybe they can finish early and give us back some peace and a sane dog. But hey, this is part of life in Southern Italy.
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Guido


14 comments:

  1. Wow! I would never have dreamed the fire situation would be like this in Italy. Great photos and story, Doug! Stay safe you guys!

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  2. Scott et al,
    Our Italian homes are all stone/stucco/masonry with terracotta tile roofs. Pretty fire-proof. These fires are little threat to homes unless the brush is alongside and then it would just leave a smudge on the wall. Anyway, the planes are perfect for these fuels and there is always a sea close to most places in Italy!!

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  3. Nice pictures but it most be very stressy to know it is so close to your house. I hope it is under control now.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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  4. I would have been scared shitless with that sight at night! But I gotta trust you, when you say everything is under control.
    Hope you are all fine!

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  5. Filip and Michelle,
    we are all fine and the fires are all out. Thanks for dropping by!

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  6. Hi Doug & Di, hope things have calmed down now and Vince is feeling a bit better. It sounds like it was all a bit too close for comfort. Hope it doesn't spoil the celebrations on Monday. Buon ferragosto tutti. John & Toni

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  7. What an adventure-but scary-even from the "comforts" of home. An American in Padua

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  8. It is that time of year again, the Canadair planes work in this area as well though nothing as terrifingly close as you have seen. Stay safe and Buon Ferragosto.

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  9. Thanks, LLM and John and Toni--Buon Ferragusto a voi!
    Irene, good to hear from you.

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  10. Wow! What a great writeup of your firsthand experience with these fires. The first time I saw a Canadair plane landing to scoop up water I thought that the pilot was practicing landing in the sea to rescue people in distress. We were a the beach in Scauri and the man that owned the beach bar explained what the plane was. Your pictures are just beautiful.

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  11. I hope now it is better.
    The fires also started around Pizzo and Vibo in the last days. I condem these bastards that light the fires on purpose or for fun and endanger the environment and the fire fighters with their silly acts.

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  12. Suzie,
    I know, people---you gotta love 'em!

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  13. I remember for some years ago it was burning 3 diferent places around our apartment in Guardia Piemontese Marina (Residenze Lo Scoglio) It was snowing ashes for 24 ours. In the resturants we all needed umbrellas to cover the dining table. The strange thing was than anybody took notise of what happend, this was normal. It was heavy enough too breath.

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