Bridger Foothills Fire

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Posted by Granite Head ( on 15:51:51 09/12/20

The "M" fire has been officially dubbed the Bridger Foothills fire. Twenty-eight houses destroyed, no human lives lost, a minor injury or two to fire fighters, three of whom deployed their fire shelters and bore down as the fire passed over them. They were unhurt. No estimate of loss of productive land, livestock, or pet animals. Wildlife is probably taking care of itself for the most part. As of today the fire is considered 72% contained, per Inciweb.

Cause has been determined to be a lightning strike that took about 5 days to turn into a fire by a process called delayed ignition. The heat from the lightning stews underground until it reaches a critical temperature and turns into a fire in the presence of suitable fuel - like the dry confer forest.

An enormous effort went in to quelling the Bridger Foothills fire and securing property, starting Friday September 4, when the fire was still small but burning fast on the west side of Baldy Mountain - that is, on the Bozeman side. That night it crested the mountain and expanded to cover more than 8,200 acres as of today (per Inciweb). The McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 in the photo has been modified to serve as a Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) to drop huge amounts of slurry fire retardant on wild-land fires. The agility of the enormous aircraft and the skill of the pilot are much in evidence in this image. Look closely, the plane is very low over the tops of those trees, meaning it is very close to the ground, and there are homes at the bottom of the gulch, directly in the path of the aircraft should the dive not be aborted timely.

In the air to the upper left of the tanker is the Aerial Supervision Module or ASM, which serves as air traffic control in a situation like this in which there are many aircraft in close proximity (fixed wing and rotor) in a potentially low-visibility situation (e.g., those flying through the smoke plume.

Personal communication, John N. Maclean:

"The giant DC-10, called a very large air tanker or VLAT, must be accompanied by a lead pilot specially qualified to guide it, either flying alone or in an Aerial Supervision Module or ASM, which carries both a lead pilot and an Air Attack qualified as a supervisor. A lead pilot will lay down a whitish smoke that makes a virtual chalk mark for the DC-10 to follow. The ASM also supervises other aircraft at the fire, stacking them up at different elevations so they don t interfere with each other, much like a multi-layered carousel."

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