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Spotting smoke hidden in smoke-- High tech helps identify wildfires

Multi-mission aircraft
Posted at 11:40 AM, Aug 11, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS — Spotting a wildfire early becomes a lot more difficult with all the smoke drifting into Colorado from California. Wildfires are often identified by smoke columns, but if it is smoke surrounded by smoke it is much harder to see.

Colorado Springs firefighters credit old school fire spotting and modern technology for helping stop two small side by side fires first reported as one. The small fires were in rugged mountain terrain on the southwest edge of the city.

There were hikers and bikers in close enough to the fires they were able to distinguish rising smoke in the midst of drifting smoke. Captain Mike Smaldino with Colorado Springs Fire Department said the people who called in reports did their “due diligence” to confirm what they were seeing. "They didn't just go, it must be something else. They actually waited a few minutes, saw it, they stayed in those areas. We were able to call back a few of them and get a better direction."

Upgrades to firefighting technology then helped confirm the fire and pinpoint the location. The state's Multi Mission Aircraft (MMA) dispatched to help. It has technology onboard to spot and map flames. The systems can detect heat and flames smaller than a campfire, from miles in the air. "This technology, ten years ago wasn't here for us,” said Smaldino, “We were able to request a plane to fly over, to map the area for us to tell us exactly how many acres they have and give us the exact GPS locations." Firefighters hiked into the area knowing they could possibly knock down flames because the fire was still less than an acre.

Despite a true smoke screen, reports by observant citizens were quickly confirmed with fire prevention technology. "We can keep these fires small,” said Smaldino. Early reports and detection proved especially important with visibility hindered by smoke.