Aerial Patrols Help Firefighters Spot California Wildfires

Daily aerial patrols are helping firefighters detect wildfires before they can grow into something much bigger, reports

Eight pilots with PJAir fly 2,500 feet in the air every single day for five hours at a time. During their flight, they serve as extra eyes for firefighters, scanning the skies for smoke.

The birds eye view allows the pilots to spot smoke 30 to 40 miles away. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Matt Chamblin said the aerial patrols also help them see fires in remote areas, before it’s too late.

“In a city like we’re standing, in like Red Bluff, we’ve got hundreds of eyes, cell phones that are constantly driving by, walking by, seeing something,” Chamblin said. “So if an event happens, a traffic collision, fire, someone falls down and needs medical attention, there’s somebody there in a rather quick amount of time to make the proper notifications.”

When pilots do spot smoke, they use a Spider Track Unity to alert PG&E that they’ve discovered a fire. PG&E then alerts Cal Fire so that they can dispatch resources to fight the flames.

According to Seth Gunsauis, Director of Business Development of PJAir, pilots can send a notification about a fire with a push of a button. The system is

“Since everything is automated in the cabin, it can be done without cell coverage,” Gunsauis said. “It’s been way more real time and way more effective because the pilot can report the fire continue about his business and report another five minutes later.”

For firefighters, that instant alert can make a difference between a small fire and a catastrophe.

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