Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ramona: Cal Fire Air Attack equipped with new IF Cam

Firefighting plane's new eye in the sky to be much clearer

Latest technology sees through smoke

During the 2007 Harris fire near the U.S.-Mexico border, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Ray Chaney listened helplessly as a bulldozer driver radioed that he was about to be overrun by flames.

As air-attack coordinator for Cal Fire's air tankers and helicopters, Chaney was in a plane about 4,000 feet somewhere above the dozer.

“It was a bad situation,” Chaney recalled. “He called me up and said he was in trouble. He was pushing dirt around the bulldozer, building a defensible perimeter and pulling the fire curtains inside the cab.

“He was asking me for help. I looked down, and through the smoke I couldn't see him.”

Fortunately, the fire bypassed the bulldozer, and the driver was fine. But what if Chaney had been able to see through the smoke?

Beginning in July, Chaney's air-attack plane, stationed at the Ramona Air Attack Base, will be outfitted with a camera developed by researchers at MIT Lincoln Laboratory that will allow him, as well as commanders on the ground via an intranet feed, to see through smoke.

The Ramona squadron will be the first in the state to be equipped with the camera and the technology that will allow ground commanders to view the images in real time for a test period ending in December.

“I'm pretty excited because we're entering into an agreement we think will be mutually beneficial to both MIT and us,” Chaney said. “MIT is looking for venues to conduct experiments with some new technology.”

With the camera, which integrates infrared technology into its design, “I would have been able to pick up the heat signature off of (the bulldozer's) engine and exhaust system” and been able to direct a helicopter or air tanker to make a drop nearby.

During Santa Ana wind-driven fires, smoke lies horizontally over the land, pushed by the strong winds. As the fire burns, embers will fly through the air, sometimes up to a mile ahead of the main blaze.

With the new technology, Chaney and commanders on the ground will be able to see those “spotting” fires. If one is near a house, ground units and air support can be redirected.

A ground commander also will be able to control the camera remotely, allowing Chaney to focus on directing air traffic.

MIT is also equipping engines in Cal Fire's Riverside unit with tracking devices that will allow commanders to see instantly on a computer screen where every piece of equipment is. The ground technology also could be tested on some engines in San Diego, but just how many hasn't been decided.

Source: signonsandiego.com - Link
Webcam: Ramona Air Attack Base: - Link
More information: About the CDF's aviation program is available at http://www.fire.ca.gov/FireEmergencyResponse/Aviation/Aviation.asp.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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