Drone detects spot fire while other aircraft grounded

It occurred on a wildfire in Southern Oregon during very smoky conditions

The Department of the Interior has been proactive and innovative recently regarding the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, in land management. And they don’t hesitate to push out information about how they are using the small remote controlled helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

In January the Department released a large, fancy, colorful infographic extolling the virtues of the drone program. They reported that 312 unmanned aircraft managed by the Office of Aviation Services supports everything from fighting wildfires to monitoring dams and mapping wildlife. In 2017, 200 certified DOI UAS pilots flew 4,976 flights in 32 states. The largest category of flights, 39 percent, was for training and proficiency, with 30 percent used for mapping and 14 percent for interagency fire management.

Now another large, fancy, colorful infographic (1.1 MB) is touting how a drone detected a spot fire across a fireline. It happened during very smoky conditions last year in Oregon:

“August 2017, two of the Alaska Type 1 Incident Management Team’s remote pilots flew a drone in support of a burnout operation on the Umpqua North Fire Complex in Southern Oregon. The burnout was conducted as a necessary means to restrict the fires encroachment towards a five mile stretch of highway 138, where the Toketee Dam power plant, houses, and the USFS Toketee Ranger Station were located. The values at risk were estimated to be worth in excess of $50 million. Smoke limited visibility to 100 feet and grounded all manned aircraft. The drone used was a small battery powered quadcopter fixed with an IR [infrared] camera providing a live video feed to firefighting personnel.

“The flight’s objective was to provide situational awareness for the division supervisor during the burnout operation” the infographic says. “A secondary objective was to monitor an active section of the fire, which was sending airborne firebrands behind the established control line. During the operation, a spot fire was discovered utilizing the IR [infrared] camera feed. The location was established, division supervisor notified and several resources dispatched to contain it before it got out of control.”

drone wildfire detection
A portion of the DOI’s latest drone infographic.

According to the DOI, drones:drone cost

  • “Limits exposure and reduces risk to pilots and wildland firefighters.
  • Able to fly when manned aircraft are not able.
  • Limits cost – Each 3DR Solo drone costs $1,800. The IR sensor package costs $6,000. Other costs are the wages for the operator. If that mission was flown with a contracted light helicopter: AStar 350 B3 costs $3,480.00 for daily availability and $1,500 per flight hour.
  • Easily packable and able to fly in remote locations.”

Air Force reconnaissance aircraft is being used to detect and map wildfires in the Northwest

An RC-26 from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane is assisting with situational awareness in the firefighting effort.

Above: An example of an RC-26, in this case a Texas Air National Guard aircraft. ANG photo.

(Originally published at 1:52 p.m. MDT August 16, 2017)

A military plane frequently used for supporting Special Forces is assisting wildland firefighters in Washington and Oregon. The Fairchild C-26 “Metroliner” twin turboprop from the 141st Air Refueling Wing was activated by the National Interagency Coordination Center on August 12 to perform up to three different types of missions using its array of infrared and video sensors.

  • Detect new fires, especially following lightning events. One of the goals is to find small fires early so they can be attacked before growing large.
  • Map existing fires, usually at night, to determine the perimeter and intensity.
  • Downlink live video to inform fire managers about the current status, location, and behavior of the fire. The Air Force calls that process “DRTI”, Distributed Real-Time Infrared.

Lt. Col. Jeremy Higgens, one of the pilots on the aircraft that requires a three-person crew, told us today that so far on this assignment they have been mapping and detecting fires, but have not yet been asked to stream any live video like they did when on a similar assignment in 2016. On the ground two displays are available, the video from the sensors and another with a map showing the location of the aircraft or the sensors’ target.

The plane is expected to work the fires seven days a week, so they brought a total of five people to provide daily service.

Lt. Col. Higgens said the infrared sensors can detect a fire that is 50 to 80 miles away. They have been flying one to two sorties a day each lasting for three to five hours. Their mapping data is sent to Geographic Information System (GIS) operators in Portland or Boise who analyze it and produce maps.

Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft”
Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft” at McClellan Air Field March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Two State of Colorado Pilatus PC-12 Multi-Mission Aircraft with similar capabilities were also mobilized earlier this summer to assist with wildfire detection and mapping and are currently operating from Redding, California and Missoula, Montana.

A couple of decades ago the U.S. Forest Service had a variant of the RC-26, a Swearingen Merlin affectionately known as a Flying Culvert outfitted with infrared equipment for detecting and mapping fires. Now they operate a King Air turboprop and a Citation jet for that mission.

A variety of C-130 air tankers at Medford

On June 30 there was a variety of C-130 air tankers working out of Medford, Oregon, and Tim Crippin was able to capture them on celluloid an SD card. It kind of boggles the mind to see three C-130 air tankers at the same air tanker base, all operated by completely different organizations.

There was one privately owned tanker, Coulson’s T-132, and two government-owned. T-116 will eventually, one of these days, way down the road, perhaps, be officially transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. And MAFFS 5 is from the Colorado Springs Air Force Reserve base.

Two other MAFFS C-130’s are also activated — one each from Air National Guard units at Cheyenne and Reno.

Tanker 116 Medford Oregon
Tanker 116 at Medford, Oregon, June 30, 2017. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Coulson T-132 Medford Oregon
Tanker 132 at Medford, Oregon, June 30, 2017. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Video: rappelling into the Cascades

Rappelling in the Cascades! It doesn’t get any better than this for an aerial delivered firefighter! Packing out on the PCT!

A post shared by Central Oregon Rappellers (@centraloregonrappellers) on

Adam sent us the link to this Instagram video that was shot from a spotter’s perspective of two firefighters rappelling in the Cascade Range in central Oregon to work on a lightning-caused fire.

Thanks Adam!

Air tanker 95 at Medford

Tim Crippin sent us these photos of Tankers 95 that was reloading out of Medford on the 4th of July for the Klamath Fire near the Tree of Heaven Campground in Siskiyou County, California. It and Tanker 94 flew out of Medford for about 2.5 hours before heading back to Redding, Tim said.air tanker 95 Medford

Photos of CAL FIRE S-2’s at Medford

Above: Tanker 95 departs from Medford. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin sent us these photos of CAL FIRE air tankers 94 and 95 loading and departing out of Medford, Oregon on June 18 while the tankers were working the Bogus Fire near Copco Lake in Northern California.

Thanks Tim!

Tanker 94 Medford
Tanker 95 reloads at Medford. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Rappel academy hosts 110 participants at John Day, Oregon

About 110 firefighters attended the Rappel training held at John Day, Oregon April 17-21. Four Bell 205’s were there: N510WW, N669H, N933CH, and N205DY.

These excellent photos were taken by Todd McKinley. Thanks Todd!

Rappel training John Day Oregon Rappel training John Day Oregon Rappel training John Day Oregon Rappel training John Day Oregon