Spot the smoke hidden in the smoke – High tech helps identify forest fires


COLORADO SPRINGS – Spotting a wildfire early gets a lot harder with all the smoke billowing from California to Colorado. Wildfires are often identified by columns of smoke, but if it is smoke surrounded by smoke, it is much harder to see.

Colorado Springs firefighters give old-fashioned fire detection and modern technology credit for helping stop two small fires side-by-side first reported as one. The small fires occurred in rugged mountainous terrain on the southwestern outskirts of the city.

There were hikers and cyclists close enough to the fires that they could make out the smoke billowing amid the drifting smoke. Colorado Springs Fire Department Captain Mike Smaldino said the people who called the reports did their “due diligence” to confirm what they were seeing. “They didn’t just go away, it must be something else. They actually waited a few minutes, saw it, they stayed in those areas. We were able to call back a few and get some better direction.”

The firefighting technology upgrades then made it possible to confirm the fire and pinpoint the location. The state’s multi-mission aircraft (MMA) was dispatched to help. It has on-board technology to locate and map the flames. The systems can detect heat and flames smaller than a campfire, miles in the air. “This technology ten years ago wasn’t there for us,” Smaldino said, “We were able to request a plane to fly over, to map the area to tell us exactly how many acres they have and give us the GPS locations. ” Firefighters traveled to the area knowing they could eventually bring down the flames, as the fire was even less than an acre.

Despite a veritable smokescreen, the reports of citizen observers were quickly confirmed using fire prevention technology. “We can limit these fires,” Smaldino said. The first reports and detections proved particularly important with the visibility hampered by the smoke.


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