Commission Recommends New High-Tech Methods to Fight Forest Fires

Automated technology may help firefighters identify threats and get to the source of a blaze more quickly

In the wake of the Station Fire, a county commission is recommending new high-technology tools to better fight wildfires.

The commission released a report urging the Board of Supervisors to partner with federal agencies to test using satellite technology that can pinpoint fires. In addition, the commission hopes to develop new procedures to better manage the coordination of fire fighters and other city agencies.

The U.S. Forest Service already uses a weather satellite for detection, according to the analysis produced by the Quality and Productivity Commission of the county's Chief Executive Office.

The report also recommends that Los Angeles County firefighters field test surveillance cameras and infrared ground sensors to determine which specific equipment best suits the county's geography and other unique conditions.

"Some of the most destructive fires in recent years began at night, when few people were awake to report them," the report states. "Others began in remote and relatively low-risk areas, but spread to threaten urban areas.

Helicopter avionics which offer terrain guidance and the most direct route to fires in progress were also recommended for study by county fire personnel.

New 24-hour, automated technology may help firefighters identify threats and get to the source of a blaze quickly, but coordination between all the fire agencies involved in any major brush fire may be just as important in mitigating damage, the task force determined.

The commission also urged the county to create a task force of "all fire agencies in Los Angeles County to agree on one common set of rules of engagement for suppressing fires in the extended wildland urban interface."

That proposal spoke most directly to Antonovich's concern that the U.S. Forest Service moved too slowly in an air attack on last year's massive Station Fire, which ultimately burned 250 square miles of forest, destroyed about 200 structures -- including about 90 homes -- and resulted in the death of two county firefighters.

The fire initially cost $95 million to fight, but the flooding and mudslides in the rainy season that followed cost millions more and are likely to continue to burden the county for years to come.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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