(GISuser.com Feature) Aerial guidance products that CSI Wireless and its Satloc LLC subsidiary originally developed for the agricultural industry are playing a growing role in fighting forest fires. They are being used both to combat the flames, and to re-vegetate blackened terrain after the flames have died.
During several forest fires in 2003 in British Columbia, helicopters equipped with infra-red heat-sensing equipment and with CSI’s Seres combination GPS receivers/antennas were used to find “hot spots” (areas of residual heat, often smouldering in underground roots), record their precise GPS coordinates, and relay the coordinates to firefighting crews on the ground who traveled to the remote sites and quickly doused the flames.
The GPS coordinates proved time and again to be so accurate that firefighters said they had no trouble finding and eliminating their targets.
“We chose CSI’s Seres (which is also sold by Satloc as the “AgIQ”) because it’s small and rugged – perfect for the firefighting environment,” said Ray Hyland, Marketing Director for LinearVision, which supplied hotspot detection, mapping and data-delivery systems to British Columbia’s firefighters.
“We also chose the Seres because it has CSI’s exclusive COAST™ technology. COAST enabled us to achieve sub-meter accurate data despite intermittent satellite coverage, which is a must in the rugged mountain terrain where we often find ourselves,” he said.
LinearVision’s FireVision system took the GPS coordinates supplied by the Seres unit and fed them into a powerful GIS computer onboard the helicopter, which quickly produced full-color aerial maps.
“Imbedding digital or printed infra-red images into the maps saved firefighting crews even more time when they arrived at the hotspot location,” said LinearVision Field Manager Philip Bazzard. “The infra-red image gives the ground crews details such as which tree or stump to look under.”
Blackened stumps were all that remained on mountainsides in Arizona and Colorado after forest fires destroyed more than 400,000 acres of timber in the summer of 2002.
With no more trees, grass or other ground-cover vegetation, the mountainsides were so barren after the fires ended that a sudden autumn rain or snowstorm was capable of sparking massive mudslides and clogging rivers, lakes and municipal reservoirs.
Government officials responded by launching the largest re-seeding project ever conducted in North America – a project that depended heavily on CSI Wireless’ Satloc M3 aerial guidance systems.
The territory requiring re-seeding with a variety of soil-stabilizing grasses and wildflowers spanned a mammoth 175,000 acres. The area was so large, and on such steep terrain, that re-seeding it from the ground was impossible. And so government officials relied on the same type of aircraft using for aerial spraying or crop-dusting.
Knowing Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has made crop-dusting a far more efficient process, government officials employed the same technology for re-seeding.
They hired three firms: Aero-Tech Inc. of Clovis, New Mexico, and sub-contractors Sarita Aerial Contractors of Coolidge, Arizona, and M&M Air Service of Beaumont, Texas. For their GPS guidance, all three firms relied on Satloc M3’s – the popular aerial swath guidance systems designed and built by Satloc.
Sarita owner John Pew says one of the most challenging aspects of the re-seeding was the fact although 400,000 acres of forest were destroyed by fire, less than half of that was earmarked for re-seeding. The areas to be re-seeded, on the steepest and most landslide-prone slopes, were scattered among terrain not earmarked for re-seeding.
“Looking down from the air, we didn’t know where to stop re-seeding and where to start again,” says Pew, who has been using CSI/Satloc GPS products since 1996. “But the M3’s were great. There would have been no way to re-seed without that technology.”
The Satloc M3 software used government-supplied coordinates to create pictorial outlines of the areas to be re-seeded. “After that, it was like sending out a kid to paint with a colouring book,” recalls Pew. “All we had to do was stay inside the lines.”
“The outlines,” added M&M owner George Mitchell, “made everything way more accurate and efficient.”
So much more accurate and efficient, in fact, that although the six pilots involved in the project had to distribute 4.8 million pounds of seed (equal to 18 transport trucks), they finished the task well ahead of time – taking only 16 days rather than the allotted 21.
The fact the planes were “equipped with Satloc GPS tracking/mapping systems permitted them to apply seed with precision accuracy at the desired rate,” reports Jim Youtz, a vegetation specialist with the U.S. Department of the Interior who helped coordinate the re-seeding project.
“I was extremely impressed with the end result: less than one-per-cent deviation from the desired application rate throughout the entire project area. This was verified both by documents of acres treated (and) seed quantities used, and by field reconnaissance.”
Youtz says the re-seeding would have gone ahead without GPS. But the technology enabled the re-seeding to be completed much more cost-efficiently and accurately.
“Most of the water in the states around here comes from the mountains,” Youtz says. “If there is no grass, there is no soil stabilization. Rain would have carried sand and silt down the slopes – plugging estuaries and springs, and contaminating reservoirs from which we get our drinking water. Re-seeding it quickly and efficiently was essential.”
The re-seeding program was so successful that when flames plagued Arizona forests again in the summer of 2003 – including the 85,000-acre Aspen Fire north of Tucson – the government recruited Sirata and other companies with Satloc M3-equipped aircraft to re-seed as soon as the embers cooled.
By CSI Wireless Inc., Calgary AB, Canada