Mapping Wildfires with the help of ARS
Owyhee Air Research of Nampa, ID 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 camera combined with Churchill Navigation’s sophisticated augmented reality 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 one late-summer 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 said.
Once in the air, Hourt controls the camera from the back of the plane using a hand controller joystick. The camera is connected to a touch screen display and the Churchill Navigation Augmented Reality System, or ARS. ARS allows Owyhee Air Research employees to map fires and collect information from high above the fire – keeping them safely out of the path of air assets actively working the fire. Mapping fires using ARS provides federal agencies with a real-time outline the edge of the fire and Owyhee Air Research has contracts with the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to do this kind of work.
Finding Hot Spots
ARS also helps Owyhee Air Research locate fire hotspots in remote areas. Using the infrared camera to find the hotspot, the operator then relies on ARS to pinpoint the exact location. Coordinates can be quickly relayed to firefighters on the ground who can act to eliminate the hot spot before it causes a fire to flare up again.
Mouse over to show the difference between how a remote hotspot might look in daylight versus IR.
Romero and his team started mapping wildfires in the summer of 2015 when the Soda Fire charred thousands of acres in Owyhee County, ID. He hopes this is just the beginning for what this unique technology can do for firefighters on the front lines.