By Lindsay Mohlere
Ever since the discovery of the wheel, technology has driven our lives. Whether it’s in the home, on the job, or at play, new tech has come to dominate the way we do things.
On the other hand, when it comes to fighting wildfires, new technology in wildland firefighting has been slow to evolve. However, over the years there have been a few notable advances in man’s quest to solve the problems Mother Nature and its demon, Fire, throw down.
The Pulaski hand tool, invented in 1911 by Ed Pulaski, is still the tool of choice. Other notable advances in wildland firefighting have been the use of smokejumpers in 1940; the use of aircraft in 1947 to drop water or retardant; and the use of fire shelters, first developed in 1959. Carrying a fire shelter became mandatory in 1977 after three fatalities occurred in the Battlement Creek Fire.
Advanced Design Fire Shelters
Currently, research is being conducted by NASA to design a better emergency fire shelter for wildland firefighters. The NASA Convective Heating Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters (CHIEFS) project was started as a result of the deadly 2013 Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona. Nineteen Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed when the fire overran their position, and the fire shelters they deployed failed.
NASA, along with the Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC), hopes their decade of experience developing flexible heat shields can be applied to wildland fire shelters. An improved shelter is expected by 2018. Not a minute too soon.
On November 29, 2016, in Yarnell, Arizona — as a tribute to those firefighters who lost their lives — the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park was officially opened. The park is located at the end of a three-mile trail from the highway to the spot where the flames trapped the hotshots.
Aerial Attack — Big Is Better
We all know about Monster Trucks, now there’s a Monster Airplane that should have a huge impact on wildland and marine firefighting, as well as oil spill remediation.
The long-awaited B747-400 Global Super Tanker, from Global SuperTanker Services LLC, received its final safety and operational approvals from the FAA on September 12, 2016.
Christened “The Spirit of John Muir,” and designated by the Interagency Tanker Board as Tanker 944, the aircraft can carry 20,000 gallons of water or retardant, either of which can be released all at once over a three-mile stretch, or at variable rates from its pressurized tanks, producing a tailored response to the firefighting need.
Based in Colorado Springs, T-944 is the world’s largest, fastest, and longest-range aerial firefighting asset. It flies at 600 mph and can reach any place in the U.S. under three hours.
With fire season over, or nearly over, the T-944 deployed to Israel at the end of November to join a team of Israeli and international firefighters battling the spread of massive, arson-caused wildfires that have prompted thousands of evacuations and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Drones — the Good Side
In the last issue, I threw a few punches at the dolts who fly their consumer unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), otherwise known as drones, through federal restricted airspace to take videos or still photos of the raging infernos below. These fairy-tale pilots either don’t know or don’t care that their little whirligigs create a mid-air collision environment, endangering the lives of the pilots and crews in the air and on the ground.
When it comes to fighting forest fires, drones in the hands of amateurs are problematic, but in the hands of firefighting professionals, drones can be extremely helpful.
Still in the experimental stage, drones can give ground crews important information in real time. This real-time data will help reduce risks on the ground and, potentially, take manned aircraft and pilots out of harm’s way.
This year, the University of Montana Fire Center conducted drone flights on the Roaring Lion Canyon fire to map hotspots. It is the first use of drones on an actual fire.
More testing is planned with the expectation that UAVs will have a positive impact on how firefighting assets are managed and deployed.
More on Dumb Guys and Drones
Because of the drone intrusion problem, a prototype system has been developed with the Department of the Interior (DOI) along with DJI, the largest U.S. manufacturer of UAVs, and AirMap, a provider of airspace intelligence and navigational services to unmanned aircraft.
AirMap now obtains wildfire information directly from DOI’s incident command system and immediately sends it to a drone-control apparatus creating a “geo-fence” around wildfires. When drones hit the virtual boundary, the geo-fencing software overrides the flight controller and forces the drone to hover in place. A drone deployed inside the barrier will be unable to fly.
Other anti-drone methods are being developed by the Department of Defense and a handful of startups. The developing technology ranges from detection systems to software that forces drones to go home or land safely and lasers that can shoot down unwanted drones.
In this case, thanks to new tech, I guess you can fix stupid.
What’s Burning Now!
Fire season has basically come to an end in the west, but has ramped up in the southeast.
There have been over 30 large wildfires in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. Over 120,000 acres have burned across the states and 6.300 firefighters, many from the west, have been deployed to fight the fires. Despite recent rains, drought conditions still remain.
In Sevier County, home of Gatlinberg, Tennessee, 14 people have lost their lives and another 134 were injured as a result of the 891 acre Cobbley Knob fire. The fires gnawed away over 1,600 structures, decimating Gatlinberg. Two teens were charged Wednesday, December 7, with aggravated arson in connection to the deadly wildfires.
(Source: InciWeb, Wire Service Reports)
That’s a wrap. Stay safe out there.
(Talkback – TWfirecolumn@gmail.com)
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