Friday, September 23, 2016

Fire Fire Fire!

In case it's not in the national news, Vandenberg AFB (where I work) has been burning up since last Saturday afternoon! The Southbase fire (officially called "The Canyon fire") started sometime around 5:30 in the afternoon/evening somewhere in the remote areas of Vandenberg Southbase. Just for some clarification here, Southbase is literally a 2nd and separate part of Vandenberg AFB. To get onto it from "Northbase" you drive down a hill, across a highway and into another manned gate (again showing ID's, just like you do for Northbase). As of Sunday morning it was at a couple hundred acres. As of Monday morning it was at 2000 acres. As of Tuesday morning it was at 4500 acres (still 0% contained). As of Wednesday morning it was at 12,500 acres, however they finally had it at about 40% containment. By Thursday morning it appeared to be mostly contained and the slurry bombers were gone. Looking over the valley towards Southbase, all you see is smoldering land seemingly everywhere. However on Thursday the forecast called for "HIGH" winds (sustained between 20 to 25mph w/ gusts to/over 40mph). They nailed that forecast on the head!

And just as we had HOWLING WINDS whipping up the Canyon Fire by lunchtime on Thursday,  SOMEHOW (we haven't yet heard just how) a brush-fire started right up on Northbase just a few miles from where I work! We were up on the roof (it's about a 10 story building) watching the 3 bucket-helicopters and the 2 big Sikorsky "dipping" helicopters rotating in and out and completely getting their asses handed to them by the wind! It took about 2 hours before the first of the Slurry bombers arrived on-scene (I assume they had been sent back up north to help fight the Sobranes fire up by Big Sur, which has been burning for about 2 months now and is now THE MOST COSTLIEST FIRE IN AMERICAN HISTORY...and still isn't out yet.

Of course, it goes without saying that things are a bit 'dry' here in Cali. And actually, Vandenberg is probably about as 'green' a place as you will find in all of the Central Coast or Southern California due to the routine Marine Layer (fog) that envelopes and covers it about 8 out of every 10 mornings, sometimes until well into the afternoon and sometimes earlier...and SOMETIMES it comes back by the afternoon after being clear for a few hours (which is what makes me so CRAZY in trying to road/mt bike out there). But the entire area is still covered with brown dead grass and LOTS and LOTS Of dead trees.

So...I've collected a bunch of pictures off the news services and internet of the fires. Pretty crazy stuff...last week I was whining that I wasn't able to ride my mt bike on Southbase becasue of the impending launch of an Atlas V rocket from SLC-3 (SLC=Space Launch Complex) and the Worldview 4 spacecraft. It was set to go off on Thursday but had a problem with leaking Liquid Hydrogen from one of the valves, so the scrubbed the launch until Monday so they could switch out the valve. And on Monday we had a FREAKING FOREST FIRE going on and being HEAVILY fought (trying to keep it away from said launch complex),  so the launch had to be scrubbed YET AGAIN. And not to whine, but now I have no idea WHEN I'll be able to go biking up there...I am guessing it will be totally burned where I ride and they may not let me in there...DANG FIRE!! Ruining my LIFE!!!'s some pictures!

 The view from Harris Grade looking at Southbase. You can clearly see SLC-3 (with the Atlas V rocket and WV4 spacecraft inside) over to the right, the tall white building (tho it's not a building, it's the MST...Mobile Service rolls away from the rocket for launch).

And speaking of SLC-3, here it is with the fire moving up behind it. This is a view looking at the front of the MST and the UT (Umbilical Tower...the rocket and spacecraft are actually attached to the UT until the moment of launch when the umbilicals detach and swing away).

And here's the fire-line approaching SLC-3. Now THAT is getting kind'a close!

  This is one of the BIG Slurry Bombers: a DC10 (there are at least 2 of them that I've seen in our area helping with fires).

The big DC10 again hammering away at the front of the fire.

 Another shot of the DC10.
 This is one of the big Sikorsky "Dipping" helicopters (that big tube hanging down drops into any kind of water source and sucks up a full payload of water to drop on the unsuspecting fire). My company (Lockheed Martin) OWNS Sikorsky...we bought it a while back. Not that it has anything to do with anything, I just find it kind of cool that my company owns the company that makes those awesome heavy lift helicopters!
 A pretty cool shot of a plane coming out of the smoke after it's slurry drop. You can see the top portion of the SLC-3 MST in the upper right of the this is the fire creeping down towards the complex (and btw, the launch complex'es are worth HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, and that's WITHOUT a rocket and spacecraft inside worth MANY MORE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS). So you can see why they fought so hard to keep the fire away from them. There are many many thousands of gallons of highly refined Kerosene and Liquid Oxygen on the SLC-3 complex (what is used to fuel the rocket launch that has been scrubbed twice in the last week). Fire would be BAD for that stuff I can safely say!

 One of the smaller slurry idea what model plane this is but it's pretty cool!

 I found this picture and included it because it's right on the side of a road that I routinely road-ride! This is the start of the Egress Road descent! I can't wait to ride it again and see the desolation!

 A night shot of the fire...pretty crazy!

This shot was taken from down by the Union Sugar plant just a few miles from the Southbase gate, looking up into the hills. It was likely taken Sunday or Monday night (guessing by the size of the fire).

This is SLC-6, which is the launch facility for the Delta IV rockets. The fire burned right up to it's borders on 2 sides (as seen in the picture 2 down). THAT IS ONE CRAZY PICTURE! I believe they have a booster (rocket) inside the tower at this time...more hundreds of millions of dollars!

This shot shows where Vandenberg is, and the fires that are currently burning in the Central Coast area. Directly to the right of the Vandenberg Canyon Fire (which is indicated by the small red squares...this pic must have been taken Saturday night cuz it's still quite small) and below all the other fires is the Cathedral Fire. It's burning in ANOTHER area that I routinely mt bike over off of Paradise Road! I actually thought it was out, but now can see that it's still burning also! Not sure when they will let me back in there either! Dang, I'm losing all my mt biking areas!

 This picture is fantastic as it shows the scope of the Southbase (Canyon) fire. You can see the city of Lompoc in the upper left area, I'm guessing the fire started somewhere in the middle of the top of the burned out area (the wind switched directions on them during the week and it burned into a totally different area). You can clearly see where it shows Launch Complex 9 in the lower right of the photo...well, that's actually SLC-6 (complex 8 is also there but is mostly just a field with a tiny man-moved service tower, where-as SLC-6 is HUGEMONGOUS and was built to launch Space Shuttles in the 80's, and later converted to the Delta IV's after the Challenger disaster and they canceled Shuttle launches from the west coast). This picture shows that about 80% of Southbase has burned (my guess on the size).

 And here's some shots of the Northbase fire! (btw: as of Thursday afternoon when the fire was getting out of hand, the Base Commander basically closed the base and sent everybody but "Mission Essential" personnel home. So we all left about 3:30...what a cluster that was! And then I got a call last night (Thursday) that the Base Commander was keeping the base closed to continue the fight on again only Mission Essential personnel were allowed on base. IF we had a spacecraft that we were prepping for launch then we would be in that group of Mission Essential Personnel..but right now we don't so everybody got a day off with pay (sadly, I was getting the day off already as it was my "Friday off" in our 9/80 work schedule we started back in the beginning of August).

 Here's one of the big DC10 bombers trying to get this fire under control in the stupid wind! In the background above the plane you can see one of the bucket-helo's with a full load of water (I can tell becasue the bucket is hanging almost straight down...when the buckets are empty they fly WAY back behind/under the helo due to their speed and the wind they were fighting).

 This is a shot from east of the smoke plume (I had to drive THRU the smoke plume to get off was amazing...couldn't see much more than 50' in front of me, and it was horribly choking smoke!)

 The view of the smoke from the main gate of the smoke plume. The fire is WAY to the right of this picture.

 One of hte smaller slurry bombers helping get this fire under control.

And here's one of the big Sikorsky heavy lift choppers dumping a huge load of water on the fire. They were able to put a lot of people on this fire quick as the main "camp" for the Southbase fire is right on Northbase, probably about 2 miles from where the fire started! It will be interesting to find an aerial shot of the aftermath of this fire, to see exactly where it burned. Crazy stuff for sure!

All I can say is that we (California) are in the midst of a HISTORIC DROUGHT (the longest drought on record) and we need some freaking WATER! Come on people...we can build a gigantic pipeline across freaking ALASKA to carry highly toxic OIL for crying out why on earth can't we build a HUGER pipeline from almost EVERYWHERE THAT ISN'T CALIFORNIA TO CALIFORNIA? It seems that pretty much everybody ELSE has TOO MUCH water...we'll take it ALL please! Just make huge inlets that would suck the water off your rivers when they get anywhere near flood stage and start pumping it...then the smaller pipes join into bigger and bigger pipes...eventually there's just a few GINORMOUS pipes going up over the Sierra's. Sure you have to pump it up, but THEN gravity takes over and you could put a few turbines in the downhill side, and those could power the pumps driving it up the East Side! Hey...I'm the idea guy...somebody ELSE needs to make it work. I'm just saying, we'll take all the extra water the REST of the US has....thank you very much!

OK...I need to hit the sack. It's tiring solving all our problems. Hope your weekend is free from fires...and flooding.

Time for some COLLEGE FOOTBALL tomorrow....HOORRAY!!!

Game ON!

Saturday evening update: I stopped by my work this afternoon to get some of my stuff ready to ship to Colorado Springs (I leave a week from Monday for 3 weeks). My work building was right in the smoke plume back on Thursday afternoon when we were smells like a forest fire INSIDE the building! I mean it's INTENSE! I can't imagine how people are going to work in there come Monday's actually pretty hard to breath. Anyway, I can only guess but it still had to be a mile or 2 from the fire, only downwind. And our parking lot and road outside the parking lot looks like we got a slurry bomber drop on us! Here's a picture of one of our work vans! I'm guessing the wind was blowing so hard that a high drop of slurry just blew the 2 miles and slathered out building and parking lot. I have to think this stuff is biodegradable...they do spread it all over creation when firefighting.

Crazy stuff...and today there wasn't a lick of smoke visible from either north or southbase. But there was a spotter plane doing circles around the Northbase fire...I am guessing they are making sure no hotspots flare up, as they don't want to do that all over again.

OK....on to Sunday!


  1. Amazing fires you guys get over there. Amazing resources you have to fight them too!
    Also, that is a Lockheed P-2 Neptune. It was a maritime patrol aircraft back in the day.

    1. Ahhh...THAT'S what kind of plane that is...I thought it looked familiar (I worked in the ASW field in my 16 yrs in the Navy...though we had P3's...I think all the P2's were retired by the time I came in back in 79). Thanks for the info Flyboy! And yes, it's been QUITE crazy out here in just this last week! We had ANOTHER fire last Friday that I didn't even know about (was put out quick, supposedly a spinoff of the Washington fire on Thurs), and then another one TODAY over by the horse stables and base sewer plant! That's FOUR fires in just over a week on base property! I hate to say it, but THAT'S a lot of coincidence....couldn't tell you what month/year we had our last fire...and then FOUR?? Seems kind'a suspicious to me!

  2. Boy...we're currently in the middle of our 'stupid' weather. Yesterday it hit 102 in Santa Maria (a city where most homes don't have AC as it's usually in the 60's in the summer). That broke the old record set in 1921. It took me all evening with fans blowing into the attic to get the house temp down into the low 80's for sleeping. Today is more of the same (yesterday the prediction was only 95, today it's 93...we'll see how far they are off today).

    And on base we had ANOTHER fire yesterday! That's FOUR fires in just over a week! I can't tell you what YEAR we last had a fire on seems maybe we had one that jumped hwy1 a few years back and burned a few acres...but that was caused off the highway (cigarette butt out the window). These fires are all mysteries so far (they are now saying the one on Northbase last thurs afternoon was sparked by our stupid high winds swinging power cables into each other). Still...that's a pretty high number of non-related fires in such a short span. And I saw smoke coming up from the southbase fire as I left yesterday...assuming that was a flash-up and they would be on it the entire southbase is still smoldering. CRAZY stuff for sure!

  3. I was wrong on my number of base fires in the last week or's not 4, it's 5! I hadn't heard about it until just this morning, but there was another small fire on Northbase just yesterday! I saw on the news that the base commander had a 'meeting' in the base theatre discussing the large number of fires in such a large time, and even to nobody is saying 'arson', they haven't found a legitimate reason for a few of the 5 (at least 2 of the fires are known to be from power line issues). CRAZY STUFF!

  4. ooooohhhh....Michigan (#4) plays Wisconsin (#8) tomorrow....THAT should be a pretty fantastic game, and will likely be the biggest test of the NEW Wolverines, right up until their final game against OSU the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Game ON!

  5. So, MATTHEW, ya want some water? How about the drop or two ya doused us with last week? And wind? Ya wanna talk to me about wind? I will be a couple months sorting out the damage from the 75 mph gusts that you were kind enough to bless us with. There are now half as many old oaks in our ancient village and no wooden privacy fences.

    How weird is it, Matt, that on opposite coasts we have equally opposite disasters? Fire and rain, brother, and in this election year that is the theme to remember and fear. Like I said, nothing good can come of this.

    And a creepy clown craze! WTF?!

    Next year you get rain and we'll take fire. It's only fair. Unless Ol' Man Trump wins and then we all get fire. Good golly miss molly.