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Air patrols counter increased wildfire threat from lightning

Posted at 7:41 PM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 22:46:22-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Lightning in the forecast ramps up the fire danger in Southern Colorado. A lot of lighting with only a little rain adds another risk to the ongoing wildfire issue. On Wednesday afternoon firefighters responded to multiple fires as a storm with lightning moved across El Paso County.

Lightning can happen miles from where it is raining. Dry lightning can also happen.

“The area’s just so dry in Colorado, a thunderstorm or a weak storm will start to rain, the rain may not make it to the ground but the lightning does,” said News5 Meteorologist Sam Schreier.

Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA) program is a proactive way to counter the threat caused by lightning strikes and other sources of fire, especially in rural areas.

“With that technology, we can see a campfire 30 miles away,” said Unit Chief Bruce Dikken.

The MMA program has two planes and two crews. The planes are outfitted with high-tech spotting equipment. Infrared cameras, for example, pinpoint very small heat and fire sources from 20,000 feet in the air.

“It is very sensitive it picks up heat points very well,” said Dikken, “Way more effective than the old school way of looking out a window and looking for smoke.”

The program has proven successful in spotting fire starts early. “There was a day in July [last summer] where we had 30 new fires,” said Dikken.

All those fires were addressed before they grew into threatening situations making the news. “We are finding them before they become a problem,” said Dikken.

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