Operational Detection Systems: Aerial Patrols

29 Gru 2020

You must have seen pictures online or on the TV of a wildfire with a plane circling above it, very often discharging a characteristic red substance all over the area. It is a chemical retardant which slows down the spread of the fire. The U.S. Forest Services, Cal Fire, and local fire agencies have long been utilizing aircrafts in extinguishing and managing fires.

This solution is not only indescribably helpful during extinguishing actions, but the crew also provides information about the wildfire – its precise location, size, migration dynamics – specifying objects and areas which might be affected by the fire. That is not all, though. Aircrafts can also:

  • deliver equipment and supplies,
  • transport firefighters,
  • deploy smokejumpers and rappellers, 
  • conduct reconnaissance over an area to locate new wildfires,
  • discharge fire retardants or water to slow down the spread of fire.

Aircrafts are very helpful not only for fire management purposes; they can also be sent for a so-called aerial patrol, as they are being equipped with newer technologies enhancing their monitoring capabilities.

Aerial fire detection units need to plan out routes depending on the current situation happening over the area. The crew consists of a pilot and an observer who scans the area in search of fire. The aircraft is also in constant contact with the appropriate command center.

However, we need to remember that the success of the patrol depends on a few factors, starting with correct route planning, all the way through effective communication between the crew and the command center, the experience, and training of all the people involved, as well as weather conditions and the proper maintenance of all the equipment. Proper route planning is key. It should take into account the current weather conditions, the degree of the fire hazard, etc. The aircrafts cannot patrol the skies 24/7. Even though more often than not, they are key to successful extinguishing action, they cannot be treated as an effective early wildfire detection system.

The Author: Magdalena Bącler