Delicate Dance of Using Data to Fight Forest Fires

by Rebecca Ruiz

Fighting a wildfire requires a lot of data: weather forecasts, terrain maps, private and commercial property boundaries and historic fire perimeters are just some of the many variables a fire official must account for in drawing up a battle plan.

The right technology can collect essential information that gives crews a significant advantage over a blaze. Yet firefighting is a finely tuned practice based on decades of experience – to introduce the latest fad in data collection and analysis risks making potentially fatal or disastrous mistakes.

“Firefighting is a very delicate thing,” says Everett Hinkley, national remote-sensing program manager for the U.S. Forest Service. “You don’t want to introduce something that could break at a critical time.”

That’s one of the reasons fire officials continue to rely on a model developed years ago that predicts how flames might spread based on different inputs. A new, more precise model is being developed, but the current design is dependable.

The same can be said of the sensors used by the Forest Service. These devices, designed decades ago and continually upgraded with new electronics, are flown on Beechcraft King Air or Cessna aircraft. They use two thermal channels to map a fire with infrared, looking for active hot spots, the fire perimeter and fresh threats beyond the line of containment.

For the Entire Story and Source: Txchnologist

Delicate Dance of Using Data to Fight Forest Fires