Behind the blaze: TH60s caught in wildfires Part 2

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. This one, newly purchased, was not so lucky.

To give his drillers extra advantage to reach deeper water, such as in the Sonoma Volcanics, Fisch ordered the new rig with just a few modifications, including a 30,000-pound (13,600 kg) winch 40RM air swivel – features usually found on the deep-hole version of the TH60 rig.  The heavy-duty winch would allow Fisch Bros. drillers to drill deeper holes twice as fast. They wouldn’t need to double-line while tripping out.


On August 3, just three weeks after delivery, this rig was caught in the fire path. This time the rig was lost, along with a water truck and pipe truck.

Scot Unterseher’s older brother Steve, co-owner of Fisch Bros., had just finished drilling a water well on a property. He had set casing and grouted the sanitary seal, planning to finish development the next morning before moving onto the next job. A wildfire near that location raced through the brush and grass, engulfing the rig in flames, despite the precautionary measures Fisch Bros. takes, especially this time of year, mowing a perimeter around the site and keeping it watered. The rig was a total loss.

 

Fisch said, “We have insurance, of course. So we were covered that way.” 

Epiroc Sacramento’s Sonne Fleming works closely with Fisch Bros. As soon as he heard the news, he was on his way to Sebastapol. The sight of the charred rig remains surrounded by ashes on the ground affected him in a way no one could understand who hasn’t seen what these fires can do. “Others might shrug them off as ‘just grass fires.’” Fleming said, “And if just looking at that rig had such a profound effect on me, imagine its toll on Fisch Bros.”

Part of their recovery process, Fleming said, is staying on track with scheduled jobs, all while locating and leasing a temporary rig, dealing with the claims process, and placing an order for a replacement rig. But they are also recovering from the initial shock and overwhelming sense of loss. Fisch said, “It’s like post-traumatic stress, I guess. My head is just full of this, all of it, every day.”

As for Fisch Bros.’ ability to recover from the loss, Fisch said, “Oh, we ordered another rig. It didn’t stop us from working.” But the threat of wildfire is in mind each time any drillers in the region spud in on a new job site.

Fleming said the good drilling business has always presented contractors with plenty of obstacles to overcome. “Every well has its unknowns to deal with. But in California, fire has become the new norm that drillers have to deal with.”


 

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