Behind the blaze: TH60s caught in wildfires Part 1

September 2, 2020

Two of the three Epiroc TH60 water well rigs belonging to Fisch Bros. Drilling Inc. of Sebastapol have been caught in wildfires. The first one miraculously escaped harm during the Northern California Firestorm of 2017, which at the time was the most expansive, most costly, collective outbreak of wildfires in California history.
Sebastapol lies halfway along the 40-minute drive from the Pacific Coast to its west and Santa Rosa to its east. It was near Santa Rosa that Scot Unterseher had finished drilling 800-foot irrigation well on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. He had gone home for the weekend, planning to return to case the well Monday. Instead, he woke around 2 a.m. in his Santa Rosa home aware something was wrong, even before the call to evacuate. Unterseher went to his bedroom window.

Ed Fisch and Scot Unterseher

“The wind was blowing hard. It was so warm,” he recalled. A fire that started in Calistoga in the Napa Valley had moved during the night and was now being driven his way by up to 60 mph (96 km/h) Diablo winds. “I learned later that the fires burned so hot that night they didn’t just burn the buildings in their path. They even ruined their foundations.”

Everyone on Unterseher’s street made it to safety, but the TH60 was left in the path of one of the fires. Ed Fisch, who co-founded the water well site evaluation, design, and development company with his brother John 43 years ago, had tried to reach the rig the day after the fire passed through. He made it to the final turn off before encountering a roadblock set by the California Highway Patrol.

“I could read its paint through the smoke,” Fisch said. “It was only about 100 yards (90 m) from the road, but they wouldn’t let me drive to it.” Turning back, Fisch found a place to park along the road and walked to his TH60. His rig was undamaged. The flames had jumped the vineyard, scorching only its outer rows. That rig is still drilling for Fisch Bros. today.

Fisch believed the fires spared some of the region’s famous vineyards because “they were just too green to burn.” The company’s three TH60 rigs have worked many years to keep those vineyards thriving and productive. It was as if the vineyard was returning the favor.

The vineyards were not a sufficient firebreak to stop the fire from advancing, however.

Airborne embers, “some as big as bricks,” Unterseher said, rained down on the landscape more than a half-mile from their source. The fire leapfrogged along its way, crossing vineyards, creeks, and even significant highways to continue roaring through the dry, grass-covered hills and trees, and incinerating any building in its path.

It took more than three weeks to fully contain the most severe fires, yet at this location, conditions improved quickly enough that Unterseher was able to return to the same TH60 just 10 days later to complete the job.

One of the few times the rig has not been running since Fisch Bros. first bought the rig new 10 years ago. It had nearly 17,000 miles and 11,400 hours on it at that time. Their other rigs, a 2000 and a 2004 model, have even longer drilling records, and it was rotation time for the 2000. He ordered a new 2017-model TH60 from the factory in Garland and took delivery in July 2018.

The new rig was configured differently from the standard 2000-model rig it was replacing – although a basic TH60, Fisch said, gives his drillers everything they need to drill for customers in their service area and meet California’s environmental requirements.



Behind the blaze: TH60s caught in wildfires Part 2

 

International Epiroc Drilling Solutions Customer story 2020 well drilling rig Waterwell