South Dakota: White Draw and Parker Peak fires

White Draw and Parker Peak fires

The map above shows the fire perimeters (the red line) that were detected by a fixed-wing infrared mapping flight at 10:22 p.m. MT, July 2, 2012. The red squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 12:50 p.m. MT, July 3, 2012. The White Draw fire is on the left, and the Parker Peak fire is on the right. The fires are five to eight miles northeast of Edgemont, SD.

Wyoming Hotshots, White Draw Fire
Wyoming Hotshots, White Draw Fire, July 2, 2012

Brian Scott, spokesperson for the fire, told us at 5:25 p.m. on Tuesday that today fire crews have been busy conducting planned burnouts to help tie in some fire lines on the White Draw fire. It has also expanded on the north, he said, and is putting up a large amount of smoke.

Monday night the Incident Management Team called the fire 50% contained and said it had burned 4,950 acres.

After a much dryer and warmer than normal spring, firefighters are dealing with flashy fuels that ignite rapidly. Hazardous steep terrain and rattlesnakes are added additional “watch out” conditions for them to deal with.


Infrared video of wildfire in North Carolina

Michael Crouse saw our “one liner” from April 17 about a photo gallery of multiple master streams and a tower-ladder being used on a brush fire in North Carolina and sent us a link to the video below shot from what appears to be a police helicopter in Wilmington, North Carolina. The photo gallery and the video are of the same April 16 fire.

Michael said:

…It has our (NCFS) scout plane, A star helicopter, and the contracted Fire Boss all working the fire. It was shot with a FLIR camera from a helicopter. They switch over to the thermal and it is amazing footage.

At the 2:43 minute mark, the video switches to thermal infrared and suddenly the extent and perimeter of the fire are very, very obvious.  The video also catches water drops from a single engine air tanker and a helicopter.

Thanks Michael.

And below is more video, this time shot from the ground by a Captain in the Wilmington Fire Department, of the same fire burning intensely on both sides of 17th Street.
Continue reading “Infrared video of wildfire in North Carolina”

CalFire to use NASA technology for remote sensing of wildfires

NASA and CalFire have signed an agreement that allows CalFire to use NASA’s remote sensing technology to “cooperatively explore the use and future transfer of advanced fire sensing technology”.

Here is an excerpt from a news release. The entire release follows.

NASA has developed an innovative visible, infrared and thermal sensor called the NASAAutonomous Modular Scanner (AMS). The scanner has operated on both NASA’s IkhanaPredator B Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and the manned NASA B200 King Air bothoperated by the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif. The scanner provides real-time wildfire imaging data over large-scale disaster events in the western United States andparticularly in California. The innovations include performing all processing on-board theaircraft autonomously and relaying the information through a satellite communications system todisaster managers located anywhere in the world.

Click on “Fullscreen” to see a larger version.

NASA & CALFIRE Parternership Agreement

Firewatch Cobra helicopter

Firewatch Cobra
Pilot Steve Jensen with the Firewatch Cobra Helicopter. Photo by Rick Hartigan, Fire Information Officer, Arizona Central West Zone Incident Management Team. 8/3/2006

The U.S. Forest Service has two helicopters they call Firewatch Cobras which are retrofitted Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. The USFS has them outfitted with infrared sensors so that they can be used for close in intelligence support for ground troops, GIS mapping, real time color video, geo-referenced infrared, and infrared downlink. In addition to intelligence gathering, they are also used as a platform for an Air Attack Group Supervisor (ATGS) or a Helicopter Coordinator (HLCO).

Firewatch Cobra turret
The FLIR Turret (Forward Looking Infrared) is equipped with an infrared camera, low light color camera, spotter scope, laser range finder, and a laser pointer.
Firewatch Cobra
Firewatch Cobra on the Bar Complex Fire. USFS photo

This year one of the ships is based at Redding, California, and the other is just outside of Boise, Idaho at Lucky Peak Helibase. They are owned by the USFS, and staffed by an ATGS, but they are contractor supported and maintained. (Could this be the model for a new fleet of modern, safe, air tankers? Government-owned and contractor supported?)

The helicopter module includes a “Data Van” staffed with a GIS technician who can use the shape files produced on the helicopter to make perimeter maps of the fire. The van is also used for receiving and viewing the downlinked live video feed from the helicopter.

Firewatch Cobra Data Van
Firewatch Cobra Data Van

Specifications of the Firewatch Cobras (from the Firewatch Cobra web site)


  • Number of Engines: 1 [a newer version currently being used by the Marines has two engines]
  • Engine: T53-L-703
  • Horsepower: 1800


  • Range: 362 miles
  • Cruise Speed: 166 mph
  • Max Speed: 219 mph
  • Climb Rate: 1,680 feet per minute
  • Ceiling: 10,800 feet

N109Z was manufactured in 1969.  N107Z was manufactured in 1983.

Los Angeles County wants to use satellites to detect fires

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is lobbying the U.S. military to use their missile warning satellites to detect wildfires in their county. Some of the members of their Board have the opinion that the most populous county in the United States with 9.8 million people, most with cell phones, has a problem with the early detection of wildfires. The Board has previously considered automated detection systems on mountain peaks that would detect heat or smoke, but now they seem to be focused on satellites.

Here is an excerpt from an article at

“The infrared sensors constantly look for the telltale signature of a flame from a missile launch, with automatic analysis of the data,” according to the letter signed by all five county supervisors. “Since a missile flame has characteristics similar to a wildland fire, the satellites should be able to detect forest and brush fires just as effectively.”

U.S. Air Force Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites, which scan the globe every 10 seconds, have proved their ability to spot wildfires. In 1994 and 1995, the U.S. Air Force participated in the Hazard Support Program, according to Anthony Roake, spokesman for the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo. That program, led by the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, combined information derived from U.S. military and civil satellites to detect wildfires in the United States and volcanic activity around the globe and reported the results to local agencies. Additional testing of the Hazard Support Program continued in the late 1990s, said Richard Davies, executive director of the Western Disaster Center, a nonprofit research organization based in Mountain View, Calif.

In spite of successful demonstrations, the Hazard Support System was halted in 2001 when the military was ready to hand off the program but no civil federal agency offered the funding needed to operate and maintain it, government officials said. Nearly a decade later, the necessary ground equipment still exists to enable the DSP constellation to assist in wildfire detection; however, a period of operational testing would be required to prove its utility, according to Dee Pack, remote sensing department director for the Aerospace Corp. of El Segundo, Calif. “Since 2000, the technology has been used for other applications. It could be used for fire detection again if the government wanted to do that.”

There are definitely some remote areas in North America that could benefit from a satellite-based fire detection system. Spread across the continent, the cost per acre would most likely be small, especially since the satellites are already in operation. Multi-tasking these missile detection satellites could be in our best interests. The “civilian agencies” that refused to step up in 2001 to help make this happen need to reconsider.

UAV used for Alaska wildfire

Here is a video of an unmanned aerial vehicle being used to gather intelligence about a fire in Alaska.



Earlier this month in Alaska, a 40-pound Insitu Scan Eagle saw duty fighting wildfires after dense haze grounded conventional aircraft. The UAV is operated by the University of Alaska, which according to university officials is the first entity other than NASA or the Department of Homeland Security allowed to fly an unmanned aircraft beyond the line of sight in civil airspace.

The Scan Eagle — which is Boeing’s best-selling aircraft right now — was able to fly low over the fires through the thick smoke. Infrared cameras allowed people on the ground tracking the fires to find hotspots and monitor the fire lines.