Amid a tremendously active and deadly wildlife season in California, a proposal by a United States Air Force officer to implement the use of bombs in firefighting is spurring conversations online.
The War on the Rocks blog post by Mike Benitez, a USAF weapons systems officer, suggests that firefighting officials consider the use of air-burst bombs to put out fires.
The idea of putting out fires using explosives isn’t a new one. Oilfield firefighters have used similar techniques to halt oil-well fires which can burn for months.
The blast knocks the flames off the fuel source and puts out the fire.
Dr. Graham Doig is an Assistant Professor in the aerospace engineering department at California Polytechnic State University.
"It's a lot like blowing out a candle, except you get a much larger blast of air," Doig said in a 2014 interview with USA Today. "We're thinking of this as being a potential way to stop a fast, uncontrolled fire in its tracks and give you a lot more time to get things under control or evacuate people that are downwind of the blaze."
In July, the Swedish Air Force proved that a wildland fire could be effectively extinguished when pilots dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb over one.
However, the mission was carried out over the Alvdalen military firing range, an area with extreme terrain, and where it would be unsafe for firefighters to enter because of unexploded munitions and other potential hazards, said Press Secretary Jesper Tengroth of the Swedish Armed Forces.
The Swedish military has not conducted a similar drop during a traditional wildland fire nor do they have plans to, officials said.
CAL Fire officials say the method has never been used in the state and it’s not something to their knowledge is being looked into.
“As with any idea — good or bad — some suspicion and pessimism is to be expected,” Benetiz said in an e-mail, a more than 20 year Veteran of the US Armed Forces.
While effective in stopping a fire, the detonating bomb used by the Swedish Air Force poses issues in wildland areas because of the fragments it produces.
He suggests the design and thermobaric bomb with a composite case. However, these bombs can cost between $250,000 and $2 million, Benetiz said.
Thermobaric bombs are also considered controversial because they use the surrounding oxygen to create the explosion, Benetiz said.
The cost of fighting fires and the damages sustained in California in recent years has reached billions of dollars.
Benetiz says perhaps new innovations can do more to prevent the devastation caused by wildfires which continue to worsen year over year.