A New Paradigm in Wildfire Combat

California is now in its 5th successive drought and wildfire season. Long term droughts inevitably lead to catastrophic wildfire events. The 2016 fire season arrived early in 2016 with Alberta, Canada experiencing its costliest disaster in history. Now, California is also experiencing severe wildfires.

The Californian Blue Cut wildfire forced the evacuation of approx. 82,000 residents in August, 2016. Image courtesy of  The Atlantic

The Californian Blue Cut wildfire forced the evacuation of approx. 82,000 residents in August, 2016. Image courtesy of The Atlantic

The US National Interagency Fire Center long-range wildfire potential outlook for September 2016, indicates that Fall will not see an early end of wildfires.

The September wildfire outlook issued on 1st August 2016 – no end in sight for Western USA. Image courtesy of  National Interagency Fire Center

The September wildfire outlook issued on 1st August 2016 – no end in sight for Western USA. Image courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center

Gulf War veterans may have seen similarities between the smoke-laden skies of wildfire ravaged California, Canada and Fort McMurray and recalled Kuwaiti skies after Saddam fired more than 600 oil wells in 1991.

Smoke plumes from Kuwaiti oil well fires in April, 1991- image courtesy of  Wikipedia

Smoke plumes from Kuwaiti oil well fires in April, 1991- image courtesy of Wikipedia

Huge fiery plumes from the deliberate burning of an estimated 600+ oil wells blackened Middle East skies for months after sabotage by retreating Iraqi forces. Burning the Kuwaiti oil wells is perhaps the most destructive act of arson in history. [See page 8 in reference]

Stopping this catastrophe looked to be an impossible mission, however, smart people found a clever ways to stop the fires. Some oil-well fires were quelled by a specially designed Soviet T-34 tank, called Windy.

windy.png

Built by Hungarian engineers, Windy has 2 x MIG 21 fighter jet engines strapped onto the chassis. As the video below shows, the jets are turned on and together with 6 water nozzles, the tank is driven close up to the immense heat from the burning well, where Windy does his thing.

In their comprehensive article entitled Stilling the Fires of War, photographer Peter Pawinski and journalist Zoltan Scrivener explain;

The fire is killed by severing the supply of oil to the flame. The first 15 to 30 feet of oil streaming upward from the wellhead doesn’t burn because it travels too fast for oxygen to mix with it and ignite. Cut through that oil flow with the immense jet exhaust, and the fire will die. Then the steam cools the air around the well, helping to prevent re-ignition. And so, in a few minutes, it’s over. And the tank, clankety-clank, its armored body cracking noisily from cooling, trundles off, victorious again.
— Stilling the Fires of War

If a 1941 Soviet tank, coupled with two 1960 Soviet era jet fighter engines can stop catastrophic oil-well fires in 1991, then can we do something equally as clever to stop the wildfires raging across North America in 2016?

Other Clever Uses for Armour

The use of specially designed armoured vehicles for life-saving tasks is not new.
In 1943, an irascible, stubborn military genius, MAJ GEN Sir Percy Hobart, led a paradigm shift in armoured operations with his 79th Armoured [Experimental] Division. This unit comprised 1,900 specialised armoured vehicles, becoming the world’s largest Armoured Division of World War II.

One of MAJ GEN Sir Percy Hobart’s “funnies” – a modified Sherman AVRE Flail tank. Specialised tanks like this saved thousands of allied soldiers by clearing lanes through mine-fields and barbed-wire entanglements. Image courtesy of  ThinkDefence.co.uk

One of MAJ GEN Sir Percy Hobart’s “funnies” – a modified Sherman AVRE Flail tank. Specialised tanks like this saved thousands of allied soldiers by clearing lanes through mine-fields and barbed-wire entanglements. Image courtesy of ThinkDefence.co.uk

On June 6th 2016, commemorations for the 72nd anniversary of the successful 1944 allied amphibious invasion of Europe – Operation Overlord – were held in Normandy, France.
Operation Overlord has become one of the most enduring and recognisable turning points in history, thanks to books, documentaries and movies including The Longest Day, Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan - these special Sherman tanks represent Hobart's Funnies.

Saving Private Ryan - these special Sherman tanks represent Hobart's Funnies.

GEN Dwight D Eisenhower commanded the invasion. As the US commander of SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces] it was Eisenhower’s mission to ensure success. Eisenhower was not handed success, he had to weld a multi-national allied force together – and – safely establish beachheads on a massively defended enemy coastline, the Atlantic Wall.

This operation utilised large numbers of armored vehicles never seen before. Thanks to the military genius of MAJ GEN Sir Percy Hobart, casualties were lighter than expected and the landings succeeded.

Apart from the factor of tactical surprise, the comparatively light casualties which we sustained on all beaches, except OMAHA, were in large measure due to the success of the novel mechanical contrivances which we employed, and to the staggering moral and material effect of the mass of armor landed in the leading waves of the assault. It is doubtful if the assault forces could have firmly established themselves without the assistance of these weapons.
— GEN Eisenhower

This paradigm shift in Hobart’s operational genius was about saving soldier’s lives.
In World War I, GEN Sir John Monash, Commander of the Australian Corps was the architect for the breakthrough attack on 8th August 1918 into the Hindenburg Line, which finally ended World War I.

The true role of infantry is not to expend itself upon heroic physical effort, not to wither away under merciless machine-gun fire, not to impale itself on hostile bayonets, but on the contrary, to advance under the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in the form of guns, machine-guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes; to advance with as little impediment as possible; to be relieved as far as possible of the obligation to fight their way forward.
— GEN Sir John Monash
GEN Monash used British Mark V tanks to break through the Hindenburg in 1918 –  image courtesy of Pinterest.com

GEN Monash used British Mark V tanks to break through the Hindenburg in 1918 – image courtesy of Pinterest.com

The Rise of Pyro-terrorism

War-fighting today has evolved from battles between nations to that of asymmetric warfare or war-fighting by proxy. Every day our news and TV reports are saturated with increasing numbers of lethal terrorist attacks across our planet.

In 2007 at Glasgow Airport, terrorists tried to crash their burning car into the passenger terminal. The flaming car was packed with gas cylinders. The plan was for the car fire to detonate the gas cylinders creating massive casualties in the attack and also against first responders including ambulance para-medics, fire-fighters and police.

The 4WD vehicle used to smash into the Glasgow Airport Terminal in 2007 – note the large gas cylinders – planned to detonate from the heat of the blazing car. Image courtesy of  Daily Mail UK

The 4WD vehicle used to smash into the Glasgow Airport Terminal in 2007 – note the large gas cylinders – planned to detonate from the heat of the blazing car. Image courtesy of Daily Mail UK

Soft-skinned fire-fighting appliances like these provide no defence against pyro-terrorists who plan delayed attacks against first responders.

Soft-skinned fire-fighting appliances like these provide no defence against pyro-terrorists who plan delayed attacks against first responders.

Developed from a military Armoured Personnel Carrier [APC] this KLF Marder has been adapted for combat against pyro-terrorist threats – Image courtesy of  Independent Australia

Developed from a military Armoured Personnel Carrier [APC] this KLF Marder has been adapted for combat against pyro-terrorist threats – Image courtesy of Independent Australia

This fire-fighting tank has been developed from the Leopard 1 Armored Fighting Vehicle [AFV]. It carries 5000 gallons [20,000 litres] of water. These vehicles are already in the US but are not used. Image is from  Texoga Tech  as part of  original research paper by author.

This fire-fighting tank has been developed from the Leopard 1 Armored Fighting Vehicle [AFV]. It carries 5000 gallons [20,000 litres] of water. These vehicles are already in the US but are not used. Image is from Texoga Tech as part of original research paper by author.

The US Pyro-terrorist Threat

According to Joseph W Pfeifer [Chief of Counterterrorism and Emergency Preparedness at the Fire Department of the City of New York], the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India by Lashkar-i-Tayyiba provides compelling evidence that pyro-terrorism is now a standard operating procedure [SOP] for terrorist organisations.

The devastating 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, represented a game-changer. Over three days, a city of nearly 14 million was held hostage while 166 people were murdered in multiple locations across the city, introducing a new model for terrorist attacks. The nature of the Mumbai attack confused those providing tactical response, rescue operations, fire extinguishment and mass casualty care. The attackers employed multiple means of attack, including: improvised explosive devices, assassination, hostage barricade, building takeover, active shooter, kidnapping and fire. Despite all of the violence, the most iconic images from that event remain the fire at Taj Mahal Hotel. It was the fire that complicated rescue operations and drastically increased the lethality of the attacks.
— Joseph W Pfeifer
The luxurious Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel – one of multiple sites hit in the November 2008 pyro-terrorist attack on Mumbai – image courtesy of  The Daily Beast

The luxurious Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel – one of multiple sites hit in the November 2008 pyro-terrorist attack on Mumbai – image courtesy of The Daily Beast

In this article entitled, Fire Wars: Past and Future Terrorist Attacks on American Forests Warrant Priority Attention, Larry Bell interviewed former US Air Force test pilot William Scott, about Colorado wildfire attacks;

Investigators and law enforcement officials have publicly acknowledged suspicions that a single person or group “may” be responsible for setting both the Black Forest fire and 2012’s horrific Waldo Canyon fire on the west side of Colorado Springs. In the span of one year, those two fires destroyed 832 homes, killed four people and consumed 32,527 acres – all in one community.

Further, the Waldo Canyon disaster was preceded by 25 arson fires in Teller County and El Paso County over about a three-week period. That fire erupted on June 23, 2012, and exploded on June 26th – fuelled by 100-degree temperatures, single-digit relative humidity and 55-65 mile- per- hour winds. It was described by dedicated, brave responders, who battled it, as a “firestorm from hell”. At the time, our governor said the Waldo Canyon fire was the largest- loss incident in the state’s history.

William Scott played a central role in developing the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps, a state-owned and operated air fleet involved in the detection and suppression of wildfires. The use of water bombers has been well covered in the media, however, air power alone cannot extinguish wildfires – boots on the ground are still needed.

These aircraft do not actually extinguish fires, but rather cool an area enough so that ground crews can get to work putting out the blaze.

Roger Underwood, a former General Manager of the Dept. of Conservation and Land Management in Western Australia states that water bombing aircraft are not a magic bullet;

Further trial drops were also found to have limited effectiveness, while the concerns were raised that drops from too low an altitude could potentially damage trees and buildings and potentially endanger the lives of firefighters below.

Water bombers generally can’t operate in high winds, and they can’t operate at night.

A lot of our very worst bushfires occur at night time, when water bombers are sitting on the ground.
— Roger Underwood

Whilst air support provides a critical role in fire-fighting operations, evidence from bushfires/wildfires in Australia continue to identify that effective land management is the key to success. As Dr Frank McKinnell from Western Australia explains in this 2011 report;

Unfortunately, fire management in this area is very poor. The public mind here has been conditioned by years of green activist propaganda that it is necessary to “conserve biodiversity”. Consequently, the general community attitude is that bushland must not be touched in any way, and particularly not subjected to any fuel reduction burning.
— Dr Frank McKinnell

This ‘hands-off approach’ has led to significant build-up of fuel loads in forests, bushland and wildlands. Fire-fighters are vulnerable to the intense heat because thin-skinned vehicles and protective clothing do not withstand even moderate exposure to heat radiation.

Armored Strike Teams

This is where the Armored Strike Teams can play a significant role in augmenting existing fire-fighting operations. They also add manoeuvre to the equation, by enabling rapid deployment and response, plus provide massive knockdown capacity with 5000 gallon payloads in the case of the Jumbo 5000 units.

In war-fighting;

Combined Arms are the appropriate combinations of infantry, mobile protected firepower, offensive and defensive fires, engineers, Army aviation, and joint capabilities. It is the application of these combinations in unified action that allows us to defeat enemy ground forces; to seize, occupy, and defend land areas.

These same principles in war-fighting also apply to fire-fighting.

The Airmatic KLF Marder provides a firefighting and rescue capability not provided in the current firefighting fleets.

Employment for Military Veterans

Australia, Canada and the US were part of the 5 power military alliance that committed military forces to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2001. Australia provided 35,000 personnel, whilst Canada deployed 40,000 CAF people. The US deployment figures are;

Since the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, about 2.5 million members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and related Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to Department of Defence data.
— Chris Adams, McClatchy Newspapers

In a report by the Watson Institute at Brown University, 970,000 US veterans have been officially recognised with some degree of physical and emotional disability from these conflicts. Many veterans simply cannot find civilian employment.

Despite recent national efforts to hire veterans and educate employers, a new report released Tuesday says that vets have trouble finding and keeping jobs and that civilian employers struggle to understand them.
— Heath Druzin, 'Stars and Stripes' report 2015

Employing veterans within Armored Strike Teams provides a common sense solution where military skills would serve them well. This would be particularly suitable for veterans formerly qualified in Armored or Mechanized Corps.

By pairing trained fire-fighters with war-fighters would also enable cross-training in developing new strategies to combat wildfires.

Summary

Over the past 10 years, Australia, Canada and now the US are experiencing their worst wildfires in recorded history.

Australia – 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Canada – 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires.
California – the 2016 Blue Cut wildfire forced the evacuation of 82,000 residents and provides ongoing evidence that Californian wildfires are becoming increasingly costly and dangerous;

In anticipation of a hot, dry summer, Cal Fire budgeted $429 million for firefighting this year [2016], the highest budget estimate since at least 2000. The agency has already spent almost 40 percent of its fire-fighting budget for the year, $165 million, and Southern California’s traditional fire season hasn’t even begun yet.

In 2015, the Russian Army deployed their own ‘Special Firefighting Vehicle (SFV)’. If Russia has done it, then why haven't we?

The SPM special fire-fighting robot system The SPM is a tracked fire-fighting vehicle with a good level of armored protection. It was built from T-72 and T-80 tank components and can operate with a crew of three or as a remote-controlled robot.

Conclusion

In 2007, Australia, Canada and the US had access to this state-of-the-art technology. The civil, political and military leadership in each country failed to analyse, adapt and evolve to the increasing drought, wildfire and pyro-terrorism threat.

The Churchill Crocodile flamethrower tank in action 1944. Image courtesy  Wikipedia .

The Churchill Crocodile flamethrower tank in action 1944. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

It is inconceivable that we have not evolved from complex 1944 flame-throwing tanks to less complex 2007 ‘water-throwing’ tanks.

It is time to utilise better life-saving defences to reduce deaths and injuries, stopping widespread destruction of our native fauna and flora are also vital to our environmental and national interests.
Failure to invest in new strategies and equipment will further trash our national treasuries and ‘burn’ all funding for veteran and other civil projects.

As Tyler Rogoway ponders in his article about the Russian SFV;

Although tracked firefighting vehicles are available from various manufacturers all around the world, they remain a niche capability. This is somewhat puzzling when you consider how limiting a wheeled vehicle’s mobility can be during the aftermath of a huge disaster. You would think that airports and especially communities where earthquakes are prevalent, or ones where volatile manufacturing plants and storage facilities exist, would seek similar capabilities as what this vehicle offers. Yet from what I can tell, few similar vehicles exist, especially in the US.
— Tyler Rogoway