SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – As drought and driven wildfires have become more dangerous across the West American in recent years, firefighters have tried to be smarter in their preparation.
They use new technology and better positioning of resources in a bid to keep small blazes from exploding into mega-fires like that ignited California’s record 4% last year, or the largest wildfire of the country this year that burned a section of Oregon, half the size of Rhode Island.
There are 730 more wildffires in California so far this year than last year, an increase of nearly 16%. But nearly triple the area was burned – 470 square miles (1,200 square feet).
Faster fire catching gives firefighters a better chance of keeping them small.
This includes the use of new computer modeling of fire behavior that will help assess hazards before the fire starts, then chart their path and growth.
When predicting “critical weather” – hot, dry winds or lightning storms – the technology, in addition to hard -earned experience, allows California planners to pre -position fire engines, bulldozers, aircraft and hand armed with shovels and chain saws in areas where they can respond more quickly.
With computer modeling, “they can make a daily risk forecast statewide, so they use that for planning,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for Cal Fire, California’s fire agency.
That helped Cal Fire handle an average of 95% of blazes up to 10 acres (4 hectares) or less in adverse conditions driven by drought or climate change, he said. So far this year has held 96.5% of fires below 10 hectares (4 hectares).
Similarly federal firefighters monitor how dry vegetation has been in some areas, then station personnel and equipment before lightning storms or in areas where people gather during the holidays. , said Stanton Florea, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
In another effort to quickly burn, what were formerly Watchtower human personnel largely replaced by cameras in remote areas, many of them in high definition and armed with artificial intelligence to distinguish the smoke from the morning dew. There are 800 such cameras scattered throughout California, Nevada and Oregon, and even casual viewers can remotely watch wildfires in real time.
Fire managers can “start making tactical decisions based on what they see,” even before firefighters reach the scene, Tolmachoff said.
Fire managers also regularly summon military drones from the National Guard or Air Force to fly through night fires, using heat imaging to map their borders and hot spots. They can use satellite imagery to trace the course of smoke and ash.
“Your job is to manage fire, and these are the tools that will help you do it” with a degree of accuracy that wasn’t heard even five years ago, said Char Miller, a professor at Pomona College in California and a well -known wildfire policy expert.
In California, fire managers can overlay all that information on high-quality Light Detection and Ranging topographic maps that can help make forest management decisions, infrastructure planning and preparation for fires, floods. , tsunamis and landslides. They then added computer behavior to computer behavior based on weather and other variables.
Other mapping software can show active fires, fuel breaks designed to slow their spread, prescribed combustion, protective spaces cleared around homes, destroyed homes and other fire damage.
“Everything is still new, but we can see where we will be taken in the future when it comes to planning for people building homes in the wildland area, but also in wildland firefighting,” Tolmachoff said.
Cal Fire and other fire agencies have become the first to use remote imaging and other technologies that could be key to early wildfire detection, said John Bailey, a former firefighter and now a professor at Oregon State University.
Some experts argue that this is a frantic battle against fires exacerbated by global warming, a hundred reflexive fire suppressions and overcrowded forests, and communities creeping into previously sparsely populated areas. Climate change has warmed and drained the West over the past 30 years, and scientists have long warned that the weather will become more intense as the world warms.
However, firefighters aim to simulate the outcome of the fire that started Monday in the canyon community of Topanga, between Los Angeles and Malibu.
It has the potential to spread quickly in the dry brush but was held to approximately 7 acres (3 hectares) after the aircraft released water within minutes of LA and nearby Ventura County.
What firefighters don’t want is another wildfire like the one that ravaged the Malibu area in 2018. It destroyed more than 1,600 structures, killed three people and forced thousands to flee.
In another bid to gain an early advantage, California will buy a dozen new Sikorsky Firehawk helicopters – each at $ 24 million each – that can operate at night, fly faster, fall a lot of water and carry more many firefighters than the Vietnam War-era Bell UH-1H “Hueys” they would eventually replace.
It will also immediately receive seven excess military C-130 transport aircraft that have been retrofitted to carry 4,000 gallons (15,140 liters) of fire retardant, more than three times as much as the Cal Fire workhorse of airtankers that S-2.
For all that, firefighters ’efforts to put out and suppress fires are fruitless if all it does is postpone the fire to areas that will eventually burn, said Richard Minnich, a Riverside professor who studying the ecology of fire.
“No matter how sophisticated the technology is, the areas they can manage or physically affect things are small,” he said. “It’s in our heads. You can have all the technology in the world – fire control is impossible.”
Working with wildfires is more realistic, he said, by exploiting patches previously burned to channel the spread of new blazes.
Timothy Ingalsbee, a former federal firefighter who now heads Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, also said firefighters need to use a new approach when dealing with the most dangerous wind -driven jumping fires. on the lines of restraint by showering the blazing lungs a mile or more of the main hell.
It is better to build more fire -free homes and allocate fewer resources to protect endangered communities while allowing fire to surround them, he said.
“We have these amazing tools that allow us to map the spread of fire in real time and model it better than weather predictions,” Ingalsbee said. “With that technology, we can start being more strategic and working with fire to keep people safe, keep homes safe, but let fire do the work it needs to do – recycle everything on earth. of the dead. “
Associated Press writers Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.