Night vision goggles could make aerial firefighting a reality in Colorado

Local News

LOVELAND, Colo. (KDVR) — Following an historic year for wildfires in Colorado, state fire officials are considering new tactics moving forward.

Among them, nighttime aerial drops, something that’s never happened before in Colorado.

Thursday, a spokesperson for Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control confirmed the agency is evaluating whether nighttime aerial operations would be beneficial for the state.

Officials from the DFPC were among those at a Wednesday night demonstration hosted by CO Fire Aviation, which already has contracts with the state for daytime firefighting operations.

That demonstration, which took place on private land West of Loveland, involved strategic fire suppression drops in complete darkness.

“We train for it, and when you’re used to it, it’s just like flying during the day,” said pilot Chris Doyle.

Doyle was at the controls for the drops Wednesday night, as crews on the ground used strobes and other techniques to signal his exact drop location.

CO Fire Aviations air tankers are also equipped with something called synthetic vision, allowing pilots to see terrain through smoke and clouds.

“It basically puts an animation of all the terrain we see in front of us,” says Doyle. “A lot of the stuff actually appears easier at night with the goggles, that you wouldn’t see during the day.”

CO Fire Aviation spokesperson Kevin Sullivan said the company is already operating nighttime contracts in Oregon, and he expects other states to follow suit. 

“2020 brought us things that we’ve never seen, so we wanted to bring that technology here and say here’s a way to fight these fires that we’ve never seen before,” he said.

Currently, CO Fire Aviation operates nine single-engine air tankers throughout Colorado, Nevada and Oregon, including two tankers operated out of the Northern Colorado Regional Airport, and four tankers out of Grand Junction.

The goal of the nighttime operations would be to keep fires in check until morning light, when retardant lines could be backed up with ground resources, according to Sullivan. 

“Getting a couple extra hours in to be able to paint around those houses and be sure that maybe that fire works around them through the night, is a big advantage of the night flying stuff for us,” he says.

But state officials say it could be some time before this technology is used here.

DFPC released the following statement to FOX31:

DFPC is always looking at new and emerging technologies to improve Colorado’s wildfire suppression capability and efficiency, including night operations for Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs).  DFPC plans to evaluate how, when, and why we would implement this higher risk operation, but currently do not have plans to implement this option in the near future.

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