Now that summer is heating up in the US, certain parts of the world are prone to one heat specific disaster: wildfires. They’re not fun, and they can destroy many lives in a flash. But it’s also an area where a lot of groundbreaking technology is put to use. Here are six of our favourite firefighting technologies:
Long the standard firefighting tool for the US Forest Service, fixed-wing planes, referred to as Airtankers or water bombers, take to the skies, dropping thousands of litres of water or fire-retardant slurry (comprised of sulphates and phosphates) on forest fires, often to great effect. Planes such as the Boeing 747, Bombardier CL415 and the McDonnel Douglas DC-10 are commonly converted into Airtankers.
Wildfires can’t be fought using planes alone, which means a handful of rugged firefighters need to brave the conditions and help quell the flames. Recently, firefighters in Texas turned to old fashioned handtools (presumably shovels and pixaxes), as they cleared out vegetation and dug trenches around a fire in an attempt to contain it.
Should a firefighter become entrapped by flames, a fireshelter will at least give them a shot at survival. Made of foil, silica and fiberglass, a fireshelter looks something like an inflated sleeping bag and protects from radiant and convective heat while trapping breathable air. It’s a must for firefighters.
Fire may be as old as the human race, but the technology to fight it isn’t. These days, infrared and microwave cameras are used to pinpoint and gather information on fire intensity that can’t be seen through smoke.
Infrared cameras mounted to planes and helicopters can produce high resolution images of wildfires and gather temperature data that firefighters on the ground can make use of. However, if conditions are too smoky, these will fail. Microwave sensors developed by the Fraunhofer institute can actually cut through the smoke and locate the heart of a wildfire.
Wildfire Mapping Software
There are researchers at the Fire Sciences Lab in Montana who have built analytical software that collects geographical and topographical data from areas affected by wildfires and offers behavioural predictions for future fires in those areas. Those on the ground who actually deal with managing the fires can take a class offered by the U.S. Forest Service, where they learn how to use the mapping and simulation software. With that information, they can best devise a plan of action for containing and stomping out the wildfire.
The non-profit Wildfire Research Network believes that night time is the best time to attack wildfires due to cooler temperatures and tamer winds. Unfortunately, low visibility keeps planes and firefighters grounded. But the WRN maintains that night vision technology is both effective and cheap enough to become the future of fighting wildfires. Both the San Diego and Los Angeles County Fire Departments have night firefighting squads.