Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Blood Moon" Lunar Eclipse

Tried my hand at astronomical photography this evening, the "Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse."

These InfoGraphics tell us the basics of what we were treated to this evening.

I am located in the West Coast Time Zone

For inquiring minds who need to know:

Camera:  Nikon P7800
Date Shot: 9/27/2015 20:59:00
Image Quality: Jpeg Fine (8 bit)
Focal Length: 171.2mm
Digital Zoom Ratio: 4.0
Focus Mode: AF-Spot
Vibration Reduction: Off
Aperture: f/4
Shutter Speed: 1/125s
Scene Mode: Night Landscape (Tripod)
Exposure Comp: 3.0EV
Metering: Spot
ISO Sensitivity: ISO 80
White Balance: Auto 1.0.0
Noise Reduction: Off
Active D-Lighting: Off
Picture Control: Standard

I am still learning my way around this camera, and forgot to shoot RAW. And I had to resort to kicking in the dreaded "Digital Zoom," or as I refer to it, the "Kiss of Death."

But I selected this camera for the remarkable "Nikon Glass."  

I forgot about the color changing; but one of my test shots, through the trees, hinted of the redness, hence the name "Blood Moon."

Again, the religious zealot prognosticators were foiled; the end of the earth did not happen!

Not to worry if you missed this event. In 2033 the moon turns red again!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Three Hours You'll Never Get Back!

That's how "The Nightly Show" host Larry Wilmore characterized the so-called Republican Debate broadcast by Cable News Network (CNN) Wednesday night.

Like the proverbial moth "attracted by the flame," I, too, wasted three hours of my life, watching this shameless Republican nonsense.

It's like you to have been duped into watching a dreadful movie. But instead of switching it off, you keep watching. You ask yourself, "How much worse can this get?"

How sad that the USA, a technologically advanced country of 321.7 million souls, and counting, offers a pitiful handful of emotionally exhausted and morally bankrupted misfits, who aspire to be President of the United States.

As a group, totally undisciplined, lacking anything resembling character, prattling inane lies and fabrications.

As one who remembers Ted Turner's gutsy notion that viewers would support a television network running news, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, one asks the question, why is Ted Turner allowing this?

Unfortunately, CNN long ago abandoned its hard core news model, succumbing to faux news entertainment paradigm.

And let's not even discuss the structure of these so-called "debates."Suffice, they are NOT debates, by any stretch of the imagination!

Does it rankle you, as it does me, when the "moderator" of these events never press the candidate for a direct answer, nor do they call out an outright lie! As when Jeb! made the claim that the US was safer after his brother became President!

That is an outright lie! 

Bush took office in January, nine months before the attack on the World Trade Center.

And who was the mysterious passenger in Ronald Regan's Air Farce One?

The entire three hour comedy special had a few stand out moments, one of which was the question every voter in the United States needed to have answers to, besides jobs, the economy, etc., the question "Whose picture would you place on the revised $10 currency?" 

Remarkably, Trump, Cruz, and Rubio, elected "Rosa Parks." And did so with characteristic Republican piety.

They seem to have forgotten that Parks was a political activist for the very same movements the GOP loves to target; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Mrs. Parks was an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood. She even served on its Board!

As Rick Perry once said, also during a presidential debate, "Oops!"

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Rain Obviates Essex Disaster!

From Interagency Situation Report, Sunday September 6th.

• Sheep Fire, Flathead National Forest Approximate Size: 2,171 acres Structures Lost: None

• Fire Update: The Sheep Fire is on the Flathead National Forest and burning in very steep terrain with limited access. The fire is about 1 mile south of Essex and about 1/8 mile from the train tracks between Tank Creek and McDonald Creek.

 • Structural protection measures have been removed. Crews will continue to monitor fire.

•  US Route 2 open; Amtrak "Empire Builder" on schedule.

•  The forecast calls for a 100% chance of a wetting rain for the fire.  Precipitation for this disturbance will be between 1/2 to one inch. 

This was but one of hundreds of fires burning in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Canada:
•  Alaska: 145 active fires
•  British Columbia:  83
•  Alberta:  30 fires burning, all under control.
•  Saskatchewan:  11
•  Washington:  29
•  Idaho:  39
•  Montana:  31
•  California:   34

The Face of Firefighting

When the media "reports" on forest fires, they superficiality loop (repeat) dramatic shots of  airborne water drops, and night shots of violent fires.

That is not the accurate take away picture you should be recording.

Forest fires are fought by human beings; men and women, who have have a deep seated desire to protect our most vulnerable resource. They come from all ages; ethnic, geopolitical.

Forest (wildland) fires require back breaking work, under the worst conditions — smoke, heat, dust — by highly motivated firefighters, including Federal, county, city and municipality, contractors, citizen volunteers, and even prison inmates.

And even though British Columbia has its share of wildland fires, the Province felt an obligation to assist the massive fires in Washington.

And behind the scenes, an army of wildland fire and logistic specialists, to keep the flood of media information flowing,

and keep food for the firefighters, and fuel for equipment, flowing uninterrupted  through the conclusion of the incident.

Hand-line crews may end up  "hunkered down" near the fire line, slightly less comfortable than in base camp tent cities...

 Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?

In addition to fire crews from Australia and New Zealand, first ever assistance from Quebec!

We thank them for their efforts! 

See Also:
•  BNSF War Train
•  Firefighters Ride BNSF to the Fire Lines

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

BNSF "War Train!"

A symbiotic relationship has grown between the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and the US Forest Service, declaring "war" on the Sheep fire threatening both.

For several days now, the Sheep Fire burning near the Middle Fork Flathead River near Essex, has been taunting travelers on US Route 2 and the BNSF transcontinental line, over Marinas Pass on the Hi Line Subdivision, which includes Amtrak's "Empire Builder."

Close support has been provided to protect Essex, including the famous Izaak Walton Inn. Fire crews have come a long distance, like this Arizona Hot Shot crew, to protect Essex. The explosive placard — "1.4 EXPLOSIVE  F" — on both vehicles, required further investigation on my part. "Inquiring minds "need to know!  Who better to contact than the Washington State Fire Marshall's office in Olympia.

This from Scott at the State Fire Marshals office: "Usually the type of equipment carried using this type of markings would be for signal flare guns carried on the vehicle for the purpose of creating a burnout/backfire situation in support of fire suppression measures during a wildland fire. They are not carried on vehicles all the time, only in areas where there is remote conditions and normal ground operations would not be feasible."

As the only recognized flag stop for the Empire Builder, there is year round activity — from fly fishing on the Middle Fort Flathead  — to winter skiing, which keeps the Inn busy year round.

Because of the short — but state of the art platform, with special heating system to keep the deck snow and ice free — the Empire Builder requires multiple "stops."

Elevation, steep terrain, and near zero road access create a unique situation wherein the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) has dedicated one of the twin lines crossing the Continental Divide at Marias Pass, for the so called "War Train."

The War Train — in this example, leased by BNSF from Herzog Railroad Services —has been transporting firefighters and equipment to an area where the Sheep Creek fire has be taunting the settlement of Essex, railroad support infrastructure, and the World Class Izaak Walton Inn, home of Great Northern 441 motel.

Last week, an "elevated" (read "recommended") evacuation order was posted on the structures where ~58 full times residents live.  Many work for BNSF; others at the Izaak Walton Inn, while still others are involved in the very active recreational activities along the Middle Fork, Flathead River.

"Rocky, " the Great Northern Goat, traces his family tree back to this area of Montana!

The press release stated that US Route 2 was reopened, but scant information about rail operations on the Hi Line. So reached out to Justin Franz, a frequent Trains magazine contributor, who helped me sort out what I could not find out from BNSF.

"Hey Robert, Here's what I know: They are running trains when it is safe to do so, including Amtrak. On Thursday and Friday that meant they would run late at night and early in the morning until the fire flared up in the afternoon then they would shut it down again. 

From what I've heard, every train has to get a Form B from someone on the ground before going through, so they can basically shut it down at a moments notice. 

Also, one track has been reserved exclusively for fire work (fire train, work train, hi-rails etc.). Haven't heard that bit about them holding oil trains, what I can say from my own observations is that they are still running empty oil trains east. Saw two within an hour at West Glacier yesterday. Hope this helps, Justin"

In addition to announcing the lifting of the modified evacuation order of Essex, the Monday mornings situation report  included:

1. The re-opening of US Route 2 and resumption of train travel.

"U.S. Route 2 reopened at 6 a.m. today, (Monday)with pilot cars escorting traffic between mileposts 176.5 at Schellinger and 185 at Bear Creek. Escorted vehicles are not allowed to stop in this area. BNSF trains and Amtrak are running intermittently."(from "Daily Fact Sheet)

2. Construction of shaded fuelbreaks.

A "Shaded Fuelbreak" is defined as "A strip of land where trees, brush, dead branches, or downed logs have been cleared to slow the advance of a fire."

To protect the BNSF lines, the forest service dispatched "War Trains," this one included a couple of Feller-Bunchers, and a large logging Cat to clear "Shaded Fuelbreaks," along the BNSF rights of way.

Creating Shaded Fuelbreaks involve removal of small caliber scrub brush and small trees, leaving behind larger trees with full crowns, or tops, providing shade, and potential life saving refuges for firefighters.

Here be an interesting monograph on Shaded Fuelbreaks, and here be a demonstration of a Feller-Buncher creating a fuel break. Interestingly, timber harvested from a shaded fuel break is often sold — "Waste not; want not."

Work train on the dedicated "War Train" line, picking up timber harvested by the timber processors.

"Shaded Fuelbreaks" are often confused with "firebreak." Fire break is removal of all combustibles, by hand or bulldozer, down to bare soil,or occur naturally, such as barren soil, streams, rivers, roads.

3.  Structural protection measures.

This can be as basic as physically removing combustible material away from structures, protecting structures with fire streams, applying an aquas film forming foam, such as Aquas Film Forming Foams (AFFF.) Smothering foams have been around since the early 1900's.

AFFF rely on proteins to stick to the surface and form a barrier that deprives a fire of oxygen.  The tricky part is not to disrupt the film. If if is breached, oxygen re-ignites the fire.

Most recently, by wrapping structures with an thermal blanket made with aluminum. From what I have been able to ascertain, wrapping structures has been dabbled with since the late 1990's.

Combination of structural wrapping and installation of sprinklers, fed by portable water pumps installed in a near by water source.

Both Sheep Creek and Java Creek railroad trestles have been fitted with sprinkler systems.

Crews spent several days installing and testing the sprinkler systems, fed by gasoline pumps, sucking water from their respective stream beds below.

Conversation Starters.  Mix your favorite cocktail and join in the conversation. Let your views be heard!

Conversation starter Number 1: "Is it possible that structural protection measures can be taken to the extreme?"

Conversation starter Number 2:  "What crew position is this firefighter assuming, and in what equipment?"