Forest fire cams snuffed out

  Forest fire cams snuffed out

18 August 2009

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Canada — The Airborne Wildfire Intelligence System sounds impressive – and it is.

Special locally-designed cameras collect information on forest fires from planes, highlighting individual houses or trees that may be burning.

But the state-of the-art technology that creates 3-D thermal images of wildfires in B.C. has been grounded for almost two weeks.

The Ministry of Forests is using a similar service provided by the U.S. Forest Service instead, and the president of Range and Bearing Environmental Resource Mapping said that decision threatens to extinguish his business.

Doug Campbell, an Oak Bay resident, developed the wildfire system that has its flight operations centre in Edmonton.

His company mapped B.C. fires from July 19 to Aug. 9, but that ended because the more cost-effective U.S. Forest service became available.

During that time, Range and Bearing’s two AWIS Piper Navajo Chieftain planes completed 46 missions costing approximately $15,000 per mission.

Since Aug. 6, aircrafts from the U.S. National Infrared Operations Program based in Utah flew 18 missions at $1,500 each.

“They’re doing it for less than their cost so it’s very, very low compared to what our cost is. That’s what makes it unfair competition but also, it’s the U.S. federal government competing with a small Canadian company,” Campbell said.

Forests Minister Pat Bell couldn’t be reached for comment, but a spokesperson from the ministry said in an e-mail that “the decision to retail NIFC’s services, which meet the province’s requirements, was made with cost effectiveness in mind.”

Campbell said his product, more than 10 years in the making, can’t compete with the cheaper, subsidized mapping system the U.S. Forest Service provides.

He questioned what would happen if he couldn’t operate his business and the U.S. service wasn’t available.

“This sort of sets a precedent. What other small businesses and domains could be affected by this sort of action?” he asked.

Campbell said he hopes the B.C. Forest Service calls his company back to work. The Ministry of Forests said they would request Range and Bearing’s services “if fire activity increases.” There are currently more than 140 active wildfires in the province.

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