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B.C. pilot project plans to fight forest fires at night

Last Updated Jun 2, 2019 at 8:41 am PDT

FILE - A wildfire is seen from a Canadian Forces Chinook helicopter as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau views areas affected by wildfire near Williams Lake, B.C., on Monday July 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Summary

Night vision goggles and the ability to fight fires once the sun goes down add up to a massive advantage

BC Wildfire Service is hiring helicopter operators trained, equipped and approved for night vision operations

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) –¬†Wildfire smoke has already caused some haze around Metro Vancouver as the season begins to grip several regions around the province.

But there’s hope a provincial pilot project being introduced this year could reduce the damage.

For the first time ever, the BC Wildfire Service is hiring helicopter operators trained, equipped and approved for night vision operations.

Night vision goggles and the ability to fight fires once the sun goes down add up to a massive advantage, says Wayne Coulson, whose Port Alberni company has been fighting fires in Australia for the last three years.

“We’ve always believed that the fire slows down at night because you lose the heat when the sun goes down,” he says “The relative humidity goes up, so the fire gets weaker at night,” he says.¬†“And those two factors are very, very key. Typically the fire will lay down and we’ve seen that’s the best time to attack the fire and build a strategy. Traditionally in the fire business, when you have an incident command team, they’re kind of planning for the next day and there is very little planning for night-time operations.”

Working at night means firefighters can get an up to ten hour jump on the flames.

“We’ve been able to pick up about ten hours on the fire by having the incident command team during the day, planning for the night operation and being able to put in lines at night,” Coulson says. “Being able to hit hotspots at night, really picking up a significant amount of time on that fire before the next day and the sun comes up again.”

British Columbia is just easing into the idea and says in a statement it will depend on how many fires meet the pilot project’s conditions.

Night vision goggles are considered a restricted item under federal regulations, and the BC Wildfire Service doesn’t have its own pair. The service has hired helicopter operators that are able to conduct night vision operations and plan to be test them on reconnaissance and detection flights.

“The use of night vision technology will be dependent on the frequency of events that meet our conditions for the pilot project,” the statement says. “These criteria include situations where multiple interface ignitions may be expected to occur, such as a lightning event in a populated area during a period of high fire hazard, or on a significant interface fire where an incident management team is assigned.”