USA BOISE — A small company based in Canyon County is using some high-tech equipment to help firefighters tackle two large fires burning in southwest Idaho.
Owyhee Air Research specializes in aerial wildlife research, but employees recently got into the business of mapping wildfires.
The company uses a unique technology package to do the work, involving a military-grade infrared and HD camera combined with a sophisticated GIS mapping system.
“The BLM and the Forest Service have seen a real need for the type of work that we do,” said John Romero, the company’s president.
On Thursday afternoon, Pilot Les Dillard and Wildlife Thermography Specialist Jake Hourt were preparing for their third flight over the Mile Marker 14 Fire.
“Right now we’re going to go out and map the perimeter again. See if that area has expanded at all,” Hourt told KTVB.
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Once in the air, he controls the infrared HD camera from the back of the plane using a joystick. It’s connected to a computer and touch screen that he can use mid-flight to map fires and collect information from 12,000 feet in the air.
Owyhee Air Research has contracts with the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to do this kind of work. Once they get the call, they take off.
“What they’ve had us doing recently is mapping these fires and so we have a GIS computer that’s integrated with the camera system and we use that to actually outline the edge of the map with the camera system,” added Romero.
Hourt can help outline the perimeter of a wildfire using the advanced system to track the “black line” or charred ground. That sets their equipment apart from over thermal imaging systems.
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The camera’s infrared capabilities are also valuable to firefighters on the ground because Owyhee Air Research employees can accurately pinpoint hotspots and send coordinates within a few feet to fire incident commanders.
“We have a laser on the aircraft that will give us within one meter accuracy of the hotspots,” said Romero.
“The infrared also looks through the smoke,” added Hourt.
Owyhee Air Research crews can also send real-time infrared screen shots to fire managers so they can better dispatch resources.
Romero and his team started mapping wildfires last summer when the Soda Fire charred thousands of acres in Owyhee County.
He hopes this is just the beginning for what this unique technology can do for firefighters on the front lines.