DENVER — The state of Colorado becomes the first in the nation to unveil its new, state-of-the-art fire detection aircraft.
The two planes use infrared cameras and on-board computer systems. They’re based at Centennial Airport and can be anywhere in the state in an hour to provide critical real-time data about wildfire behavior, size and spread to crews on the ground.
The sophisticated software system allows the information to instantly go from the plane to anyone on the Internet.
The software developers are based in Castle Rock.
While we had a mild wildfire season in Colorado this summer, the multi-mission aircraft have already been used on search and rescue operations for lost hikers.
“It’s going to give them [firefighters] the information they need to keep fires small and prevent the devastating losses that we’ve seen in the past,” says State Fire Safety Director Paul Cooke.
The idea is to prevent fires like the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest from becoming so destructive.
Just as important, these new aircraft also create an early warning system for the public.
People died in the Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County because no one knew how fast it was spreading.
Colorado’s initial investment is about $20 million to buy the fire detecting planes. At the same time, the state is leasing four helicopters and four single engine tankers to begin attacking a fire right away.
There will be no more waiting for federal aircraft to arrive at wildfires in Colorado, which can sometimes take days.
“I believe that it will save lives and will prevent the expenditure of millions of dollars in suppression costs,” Cooke says.