Wildfire Season Winding Down in Ontario

NASA researcher Mike Logan plans to use this small unmanned aerial vehicle to check for fires at a Virginia-North Carolina wildlife refuge as part of an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Image Credit: NASA Langley/David C. Bowman
NASA researcher Mike Logan plans to use this small unmanned aerial vehicle to check for fires at a Virginia-North Carolina wildlife refuge as part of an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Image Credit: NASA Langley/David C. Bowman

NASA researcher Mike Logan plans to use this small unmanned aerial vehicle to check for fires at a Virginia-North Carolina wildlife refuge as part of an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Image Credit: NASA Langley/David C. Bowman
NASA researcher Mike Logan plans to use this small unmanned aerial vehicle to check for fires at a Virginia-North Carolina wildlife refuge as part of an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Image Credit: NASA Langley/David C. Bowman

Wild Fire Season in Ontario Slower Than Average

THUNDER BAY – In Northwestern Ontario, the wild fire season is winding down. The season has see far fewer fires in the region. Through the 2014 Wild Fire Season there have been 299 fires in Ontario. That is down sharply from the 599 forest fires in Ontario in 2013, and well down from the ten year average of 577.

Ontario got off much easier in 2014, with only 5386 Hectares of forest burned. Again well under the ten year average of 110,861 Hectares destroyed.

The wild fire situation in British Columbia is extreme.
The wild fire situation in British Columbia was extreme in 2014

Crews from Ontario spent a great deal of the wild fire season helping out in Alberta and British Columbia.

There were 359,264 Hectares burnt in British Columbia and 1,433 wild fires.

Wildfires in Western Canada and the Western United States, in particular California were especially bad this year.

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, collects water in a Bambi bucket during aerial firefighting efforts in California, May 14, 2014. Aircraft from the 3rd MAW are partnered with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to conduct aerial firefighting against several wildfires ablaze in San Diego County. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Carl Atherton
A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, collects water in a Bambi bucket during aerial firefighting efforts in California, May 14, 2014. Aircraft from the 3rd MAW are partnered with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to conduct aerial firefighting against several wildfires ablaze in San Diego County. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Carl Atherton

California saw 5,059 wildfires which have destroyed 90,735 acres of wildlands. Fire conditions in California are still at high to extreme levels.

New Wild Fire Fighting Technology

NASA’s research in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) may soon provide a means for early detection and mitigation of fires in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, a nearly 50,000-square-acre region centered on the Virginia-North Carolina border.

NASA’s Langley Research Center, in nearby Hampton, Virginia, has signed a one-year agreement with the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to test small UASs for the detection of brush and forest fires. The research is part of the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s UAS Integration in the National Airspace System (NAS) project.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating the feasibility of airborne unmanned platforms and their ability to offer a safer and more cost-effective alternative for surveillance of potential areas of interest immediately following thunderstorm activity,” said Great Dismal Swamp Refuge Manager Chris Lowie. “The agency hopes to see a significant decrease in cost to survey the Great Dismal Swamp, as well as a reduction in time to detect nascent fires, which could potentially save millions of dollars to the taxpayer in firefighting costs,” added Lowie.

Mike Logan, the research lead at Langley, came up with the idea after a forest fire in 2011 that lasted almost four months and cost more than $10 million to extinguish. Smoke from that fire, which was caused by a lightning strike, traveled as far north as Maryland only three years after another $10-million blaze in 2008, according to FWS.

“I made a phone call to the local fire captain after days of inhaling peat bog smoke,” said Logan. “I learned most fires are caused by lightning strikes and the only way they can spot them is by hiring an aircraft to do an aerial survey of the huge swamp. So I figured why not use a UAV as a fire detector?”

After approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, the team at Langley plans to fly a lightweight UAS equipped with cameras and transmitters over the wildlife refuge.

“One is an out-of-the-nose camera that can see smoke plumes as they are rising,” Logan explained. “The other is an infrared camera housed in the body of the plane that points down. It can find hot spots by detecting heat signatures.”

Although the aircraft can fly as fast as 40 miles an hour, when used in this capacity it will be flown slower while it transmits video, allowing individuals on the ground to observe what is occurring in the live video. The transmissions can be viewed on a laptop computer in a mobile ground station.

Logan says the drone, which weighs about 15 pounds and has an almost six-foot wingspan, has a range of about eight miles and can stay aloft as long as an hour, before the batteries need recharging. The aircraft also can be programmed to fly on its own, but a safety pilot will monitor operations during the tests.

“This kind of application for unmanned aerial systems shows just one public benefit,” said Dave Hinton, Langley associate director for UAS technologies and applications. “They can be used to detect fires or locate people who are lost.”