OK Forestry Service Using New Technology To Help Fight Fires

Tuesday, March 31st 2015, 5:57 pm
By: News 9

Wildfires are common in Oklahoma and how crews battle the blaze evolves with just about every fire. Now with new technology, crews have access to fires like never before.

The second the Oklahoma Forestry gets word of a wildfire, an OHP trooper is in the air. The land is surveyed and a map is drawn several hours, possibly a day later. But now, with an iPad app, fire crews get the information on the ground almost instantly.

"You look up north of town and you can tell it was the start of a pretty decent fire," said Woodward Fire Chief Steve Day.

Day was quickly on scene when word got out that a wildfire was spreading across his district. At that time, Day and his crew are unaware the fire's size and where it's going. So OHP Trooper Pilot Roy Anderson was called in.

"When I first get on scene I'm looking for occupied residence, cattle, access points to get in there," said Anderson.

Anderson relays all that information to Day and responders on the ground, while also drawing a fire perimeter; a process that usually takes 6-12 hours or even a day.

"A lot of times our maps were old. They were already a day old before we handed them out in many cases," said State Fire Management Chief Mark Goeller.

It's always been a major problem for Goeller, until now.

"It is a game changer," said Goeller.

The game changer is known as the Wildland Collector App. While Anderson is in the air, his route is tracked every five seconds and is then relayed to iPads held by Day, Goeller and crews on the ground.

"I pulled that up and thought wow that was quick," said Day.

A fire perimeter is set. Access points are marked. And hot spots are hot spotted almost instantly.

"I think we're just scratching the surface about what it can be used for and what it can do for us," said Anderson.

"Lives and property, that's what it's all about," said Day.

The Forestry Service hopes to establish a statewide licensing agreement so at least every county has access to the app.