Instead of falling in a steady stream, flaming fluid from the helicopter torch disperses and burns without hitting its target trees Tuesday.
It was "ready, set, whoops" during Tuesday's opening day of the prescribed burn near Bruin Point in east Carbon County. But by Wednesday, the glitch was fixed and the expected inferno blossomed.
On both days, the procedure was textbook-perfect. Equipment and personnel deployed exactly as planned, the weather and plant conditions favored the fire. A small test burn set off by a ground crew confirmed that the "go" decision was right.
But organic chemistry got in the way on day one.
The napalm-like fuel that was supposed to touch off an inferno by helicopter bombardment on the main blaze was not working as planned. This fire starter ought to have a consistency "like snot," in the words of one veteran crew chief. Blobs of burning gel should coat branches leaves to get the fire going.
However, the fuel was too thin. The gasoline was chemically oxygenated, which prevented the thickening agent from congealing the mixture. As a result, much of the fiery stream dropped by the chopper disintegrated into tiny droplets in mid-air, completely burning before reaching the trees.
A few spots in the 140-acre burn area erupted in flames, but those isolated fires went out quickly because there was not enough surrounding fire to provide heat for a full-scale blaze.
A support crew that custom-mixes the ignition fluid on site was not able to overcome the problem with the critical fuel ingredient.
At about 2 p.m., Steve Rutter, northeast area fire management officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, called it off for the day. The break would provide time for a replacement fuel truck with unoxygenated gas to negotiate the steep, winding road to the summit for a replay on Wednesday.
It worked. The smoke plume was visible for many miles around.
Rutter had compiled an impressively thick document for the prescription fire, and as Fire Boss had assembled a multi-agency crew of veterans and trainees to assure that the fire did not get out of bounds. Although the plan calls for a total burn of about 1,000 acres, it will take place in designated patches of 100 to 400 acres over several days to make it easier to patrol burned-out areas nightly to watch for unexpected flare-ups.
The fire is intended to remove subalpine fir in the burn area, allowing aspen to move in and improve game habitat. Its other purpose is to remove combustible dead or dying plant matter to prevent major forest fires later.