DENVER - Colorado has new tools to use to protect residents from wildfire. Two new planes are dedicated to Colorado, equipped with heat sensing equipment.
The goal is to detect fires quicker than before, and keep residents and fire fighters safer.
The Department of Public Safety owns the planes, and will send them across the state in search of new ignitions, or to relay critical information to crews on the ground.
7NEWS spoke with Mike Frary, Unit Chief for Prescribed Fire, about how these aircraft will be used. He said, "If we see something that looks like it might cause a bunch more fires, like a big lightning storm, we can go on and look at lightning detection maps and say hey we got to go look at this."
From their home at Centennial Airport it will only take the planes 40 minutes to reach the farthest point in Colorado. With a cruising altitude near 20,000 feet, Frary mentioned that he has seen hot spots from more than 60 miles away.
The cameras looking for these hot spots are so sensitive they could see something as small as a baseball, if that source is hot enough. Lightning strikes, for example, could leave embers hot enough to be seen.
A lightning strike in Larimer County smoldered for days before it ignited into the High Park Fire -- one of Colorado's most destructive fires. Imagine if this technology had been used then; perhaps the aircraft could have relayed a report to the ground for that fire to be extinguished before it could spread. That would have saved thousands of acres, and hundreds of homes/structures.
That's the goal of these aircraft. Yet, the mission goes beyond just detection.
Frary added, this technology will add to the overall command of a fire. Other aircraft, ground crews, etc. will have much more detailed information on where the fire is going, how it is behaving, and can detect structures previously unseen that may need protection.
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