Military tech is helping fight wildfires

Military tech is helping fight wildfires

11 October 2015

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USA — Military technology used to track terrorists and insurgents while keeping American troops safe is making its way to the blazing battlefields of wildfires.

From heat-seeing cameras to drones to night-vision goggles and satellite trackers pinpointing firefighters’ exact locations, military technology is helping fire managers better deploy air tankers above, and fire crews on the ground.

“For years this technology was available to the armed forces and now it’s coming to us,” said Capt. Fernando Herrera, a spokesman for the California state fire agency, CalFire.

California’s fire season has already set records, and the rapid advance of the largest illustrate what’s at stake for firefighters in the state. Last month’s Valley Fire resulted in four deaths and destroyed 1,958 structures in three Northern California counties. Combined with a second fire southeast of Sacramento, Calif., claims could reach $1.1 billion, catastrophe insurer Impact said last week. Southern California has yet to reach peak wildfire conditions.

Among the biggest weapons are special cameras that can “see” fire from 10 miles away, mounted on either military or civilian aircraft. The state of Colorado was so impressed by the military imaging systems of National Guard aviators that legislators last year spent $12 million to buy two civilian airplanes equipped with similar sensor pods. The planes can stream real-time images to firefighters’ smartphones.

Compared to the $500 million in losses that a destructive wildfire can cost, Colorado considers the planes a bargain, “pocket change,” in the words of Melissa Lineberger, the director of Colorado’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. Lineberger said Colorado could only afford the camera systems because the military invested so much money developing them first.

“The Department of Defense tends to have a lot more resources than the firefighting community,” she said.

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