By Lindsay R. Mohlere
It’s bushfire season in Australia. You’ve seen the reports on television–acre upon acre on fire; firefighters hosing down hot spots; blinding, choking smoke; scorched koalas treading softly across a road on burned feet. Not a pretty sight.
Fires in Australia
Since 1851, bushfires in Australia have had a significant impact on the whole country. More than 800 people and millions of animals have died. So far, the 2019-2020 bushfire season has seen 21 million acres scorched and more than 2,500 buildings and homes incinerated. As of January 2020, 24 civilians and three volunteer firefighters have been killed. Fueled by drought and the country’s hottest, driest year on record, fires have been raging since September, months earlier than is typical for Australia’s annual wildfire season. Of the 120-plus fires burning in four Australian states, half are still not controlled.
The Australian government has called up 3,000 Australian Defense Force reservists to help fight the fires. At this writing, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, said at least 100 firefighters from the U.S. will join 159 already deployed in Australia — the largest deployment ever of U.S. firefighters abroad.
In the fight against bushfires, new technology tools are playing a significant role. Online scanning aircraft, thermal imaging, live streaming from satellites, and more sophisticated communication systems are being used to aid firefighters on the ground and inform communities of the impending danger.
Additionally, Australia’s bushfire fighting aircraft fleet is fully mobilized and due a $20 million boost to lease four more Very Large Aerial Tankers (VLATs). Maybe the $20 million will allow the Aussies to contract with the 747-400 Global Supertanker. Currently, the big bird sits on the tarmac in California undergoing maintenance after returning to the USA from Bolivia.
Satellites, Drones, and Virtual Reality on the Fire Line
In Australia, and certainly here in the U.S., fire managers are increasingly relying on early warning and detection systems, remote technologies, and digital connectivity. Satellites packed with global positioning, high resolution optics, and other digital capabilities are whizzing around the globe helping to make wildfire fighting a more proactive endeavor.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, have been used primarily for mapping and hotspot detection. They can fly day or night and be fitted with regular and thermal image cameras. Some drones are used to ferry necessary equipment to crews on the ground. In some cases, drones have been used to drop incendiary devices to start back fires.
Another interesting use of technology is the firefighting robot. Used primarily in structure fires, robots have seen duty in wildland operations. Thermite, developed and manufactured by Howe and Howe Technologies in Maine, is a firefighting robot that provides high-definition and infrared images in real-time and can traverse hazardous terrain with maximum control. Most of the firefighting robots are controlled remotely and are tethered by a fire hose that supplies water. However, Lockheed Martin is also in the game with the Fire Ox, which carries its own water supply.
The U.S. Forest Service is using another high-tech application in training smokejumpers. Created by computers, Virtual Reality (VR) allows you to experience and interact with a 3D world that isn’t real. The display will typically be some sort of head-mounted goggle apparatus that splits between your eyes, creating a stereoscopic 3D experience allowing you to explore a virtual world generated by the computer.
USFS trainers are using VR simulators to create fire scenarios in 3D and simulate, in a safe environment, parachuting into remote areas to combat wildfires. Trainers use VR jump simulators to enhance wind direction and speed, exiting the aircraft, parachute maneuvering, emergency situations, and landings.
Nikon Announces New Forestry Rangefinder
Foresters, timber cruisers, and mill operations managers alike can benefit from incorporating laser rangefinders and software solutions into their daily routine. Nikon, a world leader in optics and imaging, has recently introduced its third-generation rangefinder/hypsometer called the Forestry Pro II.
The new device is touted to bring a new level of capacity, convenience, and value to forestry professionals, as Nikon continues its decade-long association with the timber business.
This new model is equipped with enhanced ranging capabilities, improved accuracy, and faster response time for measurement result. It can offer remote measurements for actual distance, horizontal distance, height, and angle, as well as both the difference in height between two targets and three-points measurements. A new log function stores up to 250 measurement results.
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Stay safe out there.
ON THE COVER
Photo taken by Mary Bullwinkel of a Tigercat LX830C at a Morris Logging operation in California.
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