This article that was first published in August 2013 related to the Rim Fire in the Sierra Nevada becomes relevant once again given the recent forest fire in Canada that destroyed 2,400 homes and businesses in addition to damaging another 500 buildings. Not only did the Canadian fire destroy millions of dollars worth of infrastructure but it also resulted in an estimated $450-million loss in oil production revenue.
Rob Evans a spokesperson for ConocoPhillips is quoted as saying; “If the fire comes through, there is nothing we can do.” “We don’t have any fire suppression for forest fires; there are no external defenses.” Actually there is something that can suppress any fire anywhere and that is Liquid Nitrogen.
Not much has changed in the last twenty to thirty years in forest fighting technology even though the eight worst wildfire seasons since 1960 have all occurred in the last 12 years. (1) The U.S. Forest Service spent nearly $300 million battling blazes from the sky in 2007. (2) The federal government spends $3 billion a year fighting wild fires. (3)
The Rim fire has burned 187,000 acres of forest at a cost of $33 million.
Other than sure manpower battling the blaze from the ground the best the forest service has are aerial drops of water and fire retardant. Fire retardant is little more than a mixture of water and fertilizer that clings to vegetation in the hopes of diminishing the combustibility of the fuel source, the trees, as the blaze rushes on. Water evaporates quickly having only short term benefits.
Our national treasures are going up in flames because we toss a few drops of water in the direction of our forests when they come under attack from a fire.
Retardant alone is not enough to squash an inferno that is creating its own weather. (5) Instead of eight C-130s dropping retardant around the country there should be thirty C-130s dropping retardant on the Rim fire from the moment it became a threat.
In order to get the upper hand quickly and decisively a crown fire needs to be knocked down to the ground. This can be accomplished with an abundant and relatively inexpensive product, Liquid Nitrogen, LN2. Nitrogen is non-toxic, odorless, and colorless.
Dropping Liquid Nitrogen, LN2, into the heart and periphery of a crown fire will reduce the heat slowing down the rate at which the fire consumes the fuel, the trees. Secondarily, when Nitrogen converts to a gas it will temporarily deplete the immediate area of Oxygen starving the fire of the second ingredient required to burn at a high intensity. (6)
A three step strategy to knocking out a crown fire:
Step One: Carpet bomb the heart of the fire as well as the immediate fuel sources with LN2.
Step Two: Saturate the heart of the fire as well as the immediate fuel sources with conventional fire retardant and water.
Step Three: Bring ground forces in to confine the heart to its location.
$33 million is the cost of fighting the Rim fire so far, what is the economic loss of the 292 square mile ecosystem and the timber that could have been harvested for a number of industries and products; hundreds of millions of dollars?
Liquid Nitrogen, LN2, costs approximately 80¢ a gallon. (7)
Had ten times as much fire retardant been used a week ago all at once in conjunction with a million gallons of Liquid Nitrogen at a cost of three to five million dollars perhaps the fire would’ve been contained several days sooner preserving tens of thousands of acres of forest and saving millions of dollars.
True the initial cost might seem out of proportion to the size and scope of a wildfire with several uncertainties in the balance yet when the total loss and cost of all the fires of any given fire season is averaged out it appears that using a sledge hammer to squash an ant in this instance would be the most efficient and cost effective method of controlling forest fires.
Replace the explosives with Liquid Nitrogen.
The Canadian oil companies escaped relatively unscathed this time, but what happens the next time when a fire comes barreling down on their production facilities? What about this fire season in the United States; is the U.S. Forest Service going to do what it has been doing over and over again the last 30 years and watch millions of acres of forest and U.S. dollars go up in smoke or will it try something new, something outside of the box?
One thing is for certain, doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is insane according to Albert Einstein. If you don’t try something new then you can expect the same result and in this case that is more toasted trees and U.S. dollars turned to ash.