As wildfires engulf large parts of Arizona and Colorado, firefighters are searching desperately for a new way to fight them. It?s dangerous for fighters to get in front of the flames, so they end up fighting the fire from behind, desperately trying to put out as much of it as possible and feeling helpless as they see it take a new path.
They might be able to head it off if they could dump water on it from the air. They do some of this, but the amount that can be dropped is so small, it?s like pouring a thimble of water on a bonfire. Also, drop planes have to fly low and close the fire, or else the water they drop will evaporate before it reaches the ground. This is dangerous work, and lives have been lost this way.
Ralph Pope of Wetzone Engineering in Huntingdon Beach, California, thinks he has come up with a solution. He?s designed giant airships, which can carry enough water to rain down constantly on the fire. These will basically be the same kind of airships that broadcast aerial views of football games on television. They won?t waste time taking off and landing but will stay in the air and be filled up by passing drop planes or helicopters. There will be adjustable valves on the underside that work like showerheads, and they could also contain water cannons to be directed over hotspots. “It’ll be like having a non-stop artificial rainstorm,” Pope says.
These water-filled dirigibles can hold about 250,000 gallons of water at one time. Right now, the largest drop planes being used to fight wildfires are Hercules military transporters that can carry only about 4,000 gallons in a single trip. Helicopters can get close to the fire, but only carry about 150 gallons. The airships could pump out over 50,000 gallons of water an hour.
But wouldn?t a dirigible filled with 250,000 gallons of water be too heavy to get off the ground? Thomas Gagliano of Wetzone thinks it can be done. He says helium is up to the job and that some airship companies already have craft capable of lifting such loads.
Ron Meyer, the firefighting aviation manager in Colorado, worries that wind could be a problem. “These fires can be so big they create their own weather,” he says. “We routinely shut down aircraft operations because of wind and turbulence from fires.”
Gagliano says airships can get around this problem by moving to higher altitudes. “At higher elevations we will change the density of the rain,” he says. The water drops that come from the valves underneath the airship will be adjusted so that they are still large enough to be effective when they reach the ground.
Their company even has a plane to take care of reseeding the forest afterwards. “After the fire is out, we then have a device that will reseed the forest with millions of seedlings,” says Pope. Crews will drop pouches of soil and fertilizer from the airship, then use the firefighting equipment to water them. “When released from that altitude they penetrate the ground and [roots] sprout out,” Pope says.
This all sounds great, but the catch is that it will be at least 3 years before the new airships are built. In the meantime, Colorado and Arizona are burning up and who knows where the fire will travel next?
Is wildfire part of a natural cycle or a product of global warming?or both? To find out, read ?The Coming Global Superstorm,? soon to be a feature film, now only $9.95 for a hardcover signed by Whitley,click here.
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