Infrared aircraft detects single-tree wildfire

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control posted this video which apparently shows one of the state’s Multi-Mission Aircraft using infrared sensors to detect a single-tree fire. In the brief period of normal (not infrared imagery) there is very little visible smoke.

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

Introduction to the Redmond Tanker Base

Above: a 47-second video showing the aircraft at the Redmond Tanker Base on June 13, 2016.

Clouds were hovering just above the ridges bordering the valley around the Redmond, Oregon airport when I was there on Monday, June 13. There was a chance of rain across the entire Pacific Northwest and there were no orders for the four large air tankers staged at the Redmond Air Tanker Base.

Eric Graff, who has been the base manager for the last 12 years, said they had been busy in recent days sending tankers to fires in Oregon and northern California. They had pumped 165,000 gallons of fire retardant into tankers so far this fire season.

Eric Graff
Base Manager Eric Graff (left) and timekeeper Cynthia Buehner at the Redmond Air Tanker Base.

Working with Mr. Graff on Monday was Cynthia Buehner, in her third season as timekeeper for the base, and summer seasonal, Marissa Kraweczak, whose previous experience before this year was on the Zigzag Hotshots.

Also at the base was the normal contingent of pilots and mechanics for the four tankers that were on the ramp — three Aeroflite RJ85s, and one Neptune Aviation P2V. One lead plane was also on scene.

Pilatus PC12 lead plane
Aeroflite’s Pilatus PC12 (right) and a lead plane (left) at Redmond, Oregon. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

I asked Mr. Graff if dispatchers proactively tried to group aircraft from the same company together at a tanker base, and he said no, it was not intentional. Aeroflite recognized that they had three of their tankers and crews at Redmond and called a meeting, with executives flying in on the company’s Pilatus PC12. The state of Colorado recently purchased two PC12s to use as intelligence gathering and communications platforms, calling them “multi-mission aircraft”.

Other fire-related operations at the Redmond Airport include the Redmond Smokejumpers, the Northwest Fire Training Center, the Redmond Hotshots, and the Regional Air Group which supplies pilots for the jumpers and lead planes.

Tanker 163
Tanker 163 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
tanker 44
Tanker 44 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
tanker 162
Tanker 162 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
tanker 161
Tanker 161 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
tanker 44 tanker 161
Tanker 44, in the foreground, and Tanker 161 at Medford, June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Colorado requesting information about methods for transmitting near real-time fire information to firefighters

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

This article was originally published on Wildfire Today.


Colorado’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting is requesting information from vendors who could supply equipment that would transmit from aircraft near real-time information about wildfires directly to firefighters on the ground.

The state’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control recently acquired two Pilatus PC-12 Multi-Mission Aircraft. Sensors on the planes can detect and map the location of fires and transmit near real-time spatial data, still images, and short video clips to the Colorado Wildfire Information Management System (CO-WIMS), a web-based situational awareness platform. Fire managers can log into CO-WIMS to view fire perimeters and the other data generated by the aircraft. Firefighters on the ground who have access to the system can view the information as long as they have a good 4G cellular connection. However, many remote areas do not have cellular service.

Colorado’s Request for Information is asking for descriptions and prices of systems that could get this data directly into the hands of firefighters actively engaged in suppressing a fire. Responses are due by June 13, 2016.

This could supply half of the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety, providing to firefighters near real-time information about the location of a fire. The other half is near real-time information about the location of firefighters.

Colorado's Pilatus PC-12 "Multi-mission Aircraft"
Guy Jones, one of the pilots for Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft”, explains the sensing capabilities of the aircraft’s equipment at McClellan Air Field, March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.

Checking in on Colorado’s MultiMission Aircraft

Colorado has two Pilatus PC-12 intelligence gathering aircraft.

We ran across this post today from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control about their Pilatus PC-12 single-engine aircraft. They have sensors on board that when combined with communications and software capabilities provide wildfire intelligence to office-bound fire managers as well as firefighters on the ground.

Click on the photos to see larger versions.

Colorado MMA 327 visited Rifle today; this flight was mostly training/proficiency for pilots and MSO’s. The MMA’s have had a few missions lately.

Posted by Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting on Thursday, March 3, 2016

Colorado’s Multi Mission aircraft enhance firefighter safety

Colorado MMA
One of the two Multi Mission Aircraft owned by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. CDFPC photo.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today, October 26, 2015.)

The two Multi Mission Aircraft (MMA) recently purchased by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control could be significant progress toward what we have called the Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety — knowing the real time location of a wildfire and firefighters.

The Pilatus PC-12 single-engine aircraft have sensors on board combined with communications and software capabilities that can provide a version of the Holy Grail to office-bound fire managers as well as firefighters on the ground.

Operating well above firefighting air tankers and helicopters, the MMAs have two cameras, color and infrared. The color camera provides video similar to that used by news helicopters orbiting over a wildfire in California. The heat-detecting infrared sensor can map the location of large fires and can find small ones that can be difficult or impossible to spot from the air using just human eyesight. The cameras can be used to monitor the locations of firefighters on the ground, however their identities or resource designators would not be automatically provided.

The suite of communications and software, called Colorado Wildfire Information Management System (CO-WIMS), transmits the data from the sensors in a usable form to a network where it can be accessed by authorized personnel in offices, fire apparatus, and firefighters on the ground with hand held devices.

Half of the Holy Grail appears to be provided with the MMAs — the real time or near-real time location of the fire. The other half, knowing the location of firefighters, can be determined to a certain extent, but only if the equipment operator devotes a significant amount of their time using the cameras to follow personnel and equipment on the ground. On a small fire this could be done while still maintaining the big picture of the spread of the fire, but on large incidents with hundreds or thousands of resources, it would be impossible. However, if a crew reported that they were in a dangerous situation (think Yarnell Hill Fire, where 19 firefighters died), perhaps the operator could use the infrared and visual sensors to locate them and relay that information to resources on the ground or in the air that could provide assistance.

The wildland firefighting agencies still need to adopt hardware and communications systems that can track every piece of apparatus, crew, and any resource operating alone on the fireline. That information could then be accessed on a display that could be monitored, at a minimum, by a Safety Officer, and others as needed; eventually by fire supervisors with hand held devices.

Some of the air attack aircraft under federal contract either have or will have video capabilities similar to that on Colorado’s MMAs, but a system needs to be utilized by the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies that can make it usable to firefighters on the ground. Colorado has provided a template proving it can be done.

The CO-WIMS being used now by Colorado to provide real time intelligence is a huge step forward. While the state is far from developing a comprehensive organization for responding to and managing wildland fires, they deserve kudos for what they have already implemented with the MMAs and CO-WIMS.

It’s kind of like a homeless person being given a pair of $500 shoes. It’s a nice addition to their wardrobe, but there is still more that needs to be done.

More information: A .pdf version of a DCFPC presentation about the MMA and CO-WIMS at the October 21-23, 2015 Colorado State Fire Chiefs Fire Leadership Conference.

The following videos demonstrate some of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the MMA:

Continue reading “Colorado’s Multi Mission aircraft enhance firefighter safety”

Colorado sends multi-mission aircraft to assist oregon with large wildfires

PC-12
One of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12s.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) sent one of its two Multi-Mission Aircraft to the State of Oregon yesterday to assist with the current wildfire situation in that state.

The national structure for combatting wildland fires is a cooperative, interagency system involving local, state, and federal agencies.  “When Colorado needs help to fight wildfires in our state, we rely on other states to send resources,” said State Fire Director Paul Cooke. “We were fortunate that Colorado’s wildfire season has been fairly light thus far,” said Cooke, “so we can afford to help out others with their needs.”

The situation in Oregon now is much like what Colorado experienced in 2012; significant amounts of dry lightning contributing to ignitions and abundant very dry fuels coupled with high temperatures and erratic winds have resulted in extreme fire behavior and rapid spread.

“With the threat of dry lightning and even more fire starts feared, Colorado’s aircraft will be of tremendous benefit”, Cooke said.  The State of Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA) program is unique to the country.  The program is comprised of two Pilatus PC-12 airplanes outfitted with state-of-the-art infrared (IR) and color sensors operated by Division of Fire Prevention and Control personnel.  The primary mission of the aircraft is the early detection of wildfires and providing important information to ground forces during initial attack.  However, the aircraft can also provide persistent surveillance of large wildfires, providing real time information, including live video, to incident commanders to assist them in making tactical decisions and improving the safety and efficiency of firefighting efforts.

Cooke says that since their arrival late yesterday, Colorado’s aircraft has been providing updated intelligence on Oregon’s two largest wildfires.  The Stouts fire, burning in southwest Oregon quickly grew to over 15,000 acres since it started on Thursday, and is only 3 percent contained.   The Cable Crossing fire, also in southwest Oregon, has burned more than 1,100 acres since it started on Tuesday, and is currently 15 percent contained.

Cooke says that even though the assistance is reciprocal, Colorado will be reimbursed by the State of Oregon for the use of the resources on loan.

More information about Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.

A look inside Colorado’s new PC-12

In the video, Trevor Hughes of USA Today goes for a ride in one of Colorado’s two new Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-Mission” aircraft. They will be used for detecting and mapping fires, sending images to the cell phones of personnel on the ground, and helping to enhance the situational awareness for firefighters.

Colorado agencies train for aerial firefighting

Agencies involved in aerial firefighting in the Colorado area are meeting and training together on Friday and Saturday of this week at Buckley Air force Base in Aurora. Friday’s sessions were indoors, focusing on procedures, communications, and the academic side of fighting fires from the air.

On Saturday they will take to the air working with the equipment they will use on a fire. The Blackhawk helicopters will be visible after 9 or 10 a.m. near Chatfield and Strontia Springs Reservoirs and Waterton Canyon.

The agencies involved include the Colorado Army National Guard 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region, Bureau of Land Management, and Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. The National Guard also worked with active duty Army aviation units from Ft. Carson, Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

PC-12
One of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12s.