New Technology Helps to Fight Fires from the Sky
By Joe Muller
Wildfires have become a common occurrence throughout the state of California. Whether you believe in climate change or not, we are experiencing hotter temperatures and more extreme wind events—all conditions that contribute to out-of-control wildfires.
Some may be surprised to learn that portions of Dana Point are categorized as “Very High Fire Hazard” areas, with even more “Ember Zone” areas. Our narrow canyons and open areas are ripe for wildfires.
Fortunately, Orange County Fire Authority, in partnership with Southern California Edison and Coulson Aviation, launched a first-of-its-kind, nighttime, aerial firefighting program. The “Next Generation Aerial Operations Based Pilot Program” is comprised of a Type 1 helitanker (1,000+ gallons—a typical fire engine holds 500 gallons of water) that can hover-fill at night, a first for the U.S. It works in coordination with a Type 2 reconnaissance helicopter that flies ahead of the helitanker to identify a water source with night vision goggles close to the fire, and ensures there are no hazards such as power lines or trees. It then uses a laser to precisely point where the water drop is needed. Once the helitanker drops its load, the Type 2 helicopter gathers intelligence and measures the effectiveness of the night drops.
This 150-day pilot program could become a game-changer. When firefighters are able to take advantage of weather conditions at night (lower temperatures, higher humidity and lighter winds) with resources such as this, they could make significant gains on controlling a wildfire.
The program was already successfully deployed by Coulson in Australia. Now it’s available to all Southern California counties thanks to the $4 million funding from SCE.
As the chair of OCFA, I’m proud that we have this kind of aerial capability during extreme fire season that will dramatically reduce the possibility of these fires getting out of hand, especially during the night hours. As the Mayor of Dana Point, this brings me a great deal of comfort, knowing that our fire department is looking for cutting-edge technology and resources to help keep us safe.
Joe Muller was reelected to Dana Point City Council for a second term in 2018 and now serves as mayor. Muller now serves as the chair for the Orange County Fire Authority in addition to a variety of boards and commissions in the region.