Monday, May 22, 2017

State, Federal Partners Research Water Enhancers to Fight Wildfires

by Caley Fisher

In May 2017, the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) launched a study to determine the effectiveness of water enhancers in helping to fight wildfires.

The Water Enhancer Effectiveness Study is being jointly conducted by DFPC's Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting (CoE), DFPC's Aviation Unit, and the BLM. Water enhancers have been in operational use in recent years, but their effectiveness has received very little field testing to date. The CoE is performing operational evaluations during the 2017 fire season to document the effectiveness of water enhancers on wildfires.

The CoE’s operational evaluations are designed to test the effectiveness of three different water enhancers: GelTech FireIce HVO-F®, BlazeTamer 380®, and Thermo-Gel 200L®, all of which are currently approved by the U.S. Forest Service for use in single engine air tankers (SEATs).
Testing: Making the second drop with FireIce
"Cool Blue" colorant

On May 4, testing was conducted at the DFPC SEAT base located at the Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport. Gel Solutions Canada set up new, state-of-the-art mixing equipment for one of the products being evaluated—FireIce®—and provided training on the mixing process and operation of the equipment. DFPC SEAT Manager Allyn Herrington and CoE Aerial Firefighting Expert Dave Toelle, the project lead for the water enhancer study, were onsite to learn more about the mixing system and to assist with drop tests.

These tests gave us the opportunity to validate the viscosity of the FireIce product when mixed with water. In addition, we wanted to provide the SEAT pilot, Mark Miller, with an opportunity to perform live drops with FireIce. After the drops, we used DFPC’s Multi-Mission Aircraft to assess the aerial visibility of the two colorants (Sunset Orange and Cool Blue) that are used in FireIce.

The reddish-orange substance you typically see being dropped to fight wildfires is flame retardant. Retardant is usually dropped around a wildfire or ahead of the path incident commanders expect the fire to take; the chemicals inhibit combustion in order to create a fire break around the perimeter of the fire.

Water enhancers, meanwhile, would be dropped around, ahead of or directly on a fire to create a "thermal-protective coating" with three goals in mind:
1. Stop or slow the advance of the fire
2. Reduce fire intensity so as to help ground crews attack and manage the fire
3. Keep fuels cool enough to prevent hot spots from redeveloping.

Read more about the project in Fire Aviation Magazine.
A DFPC multi-mission aircraft collected infrared imagery of the drops,
showing the footprint the first drop (Sunset Orange colorant) on the left
and the second drop (Cool Blue colorant) on the right. 

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