DETECTION TODAY HAS THE SAME GOAL as the detection patrols of the first fire rangers over 100 years ago: find the fire while it’s still small and manageable, and report it right away.

Alberta’s mandate, for example, is to find all fires before they reach 0.1 hectares in size,

Alberta utilizes fire lookouts, aerial and ground patrols, infrared scanners, the cooperation of natural resource industries, and the general public to do this.

Check out the Alberta Sustainable Resource Development website to learn more about their current wildfire detection operations.

Fire M3 Hotspots to 30 Sept. 2003

The biggest change in detection is the accumulated knowledge and the technology available to firefighters today.

Firefighters can access a storehouse of information amassed through ongoing fire research, practical experience, and computer technology. An extensive network of weather stations keep track of weather conditions around the clock. Lightning locators provide minute-to-minute updates of lightning strikes.

Thousands of pieces of data are analyzed by a centralized computer system, and condensed immediately into useful, easily understood images. Take a look at The Canadian Wildland Information System for daily fire weather maps, fire behaviour maps, and May-September hot spots.

Watch: BC Forest Service Protective Branch in Action, 1994
[British Columbia Ministry of Forests]

Fire agencies develop strategic operating plans based on the current information. They can predict where fire will break out, and how it will behave. Detection operations go into high gear when information indicates the possibility of fire is high.

  • Aircraft patrol planned routes.
  • Fire lookouts are placed on high alert.
  • Fire hotline ads, highway billboards, and media warnings alert the public.

Satellite technology plays an important role in fire detection today.

  • The Global Positioning Systems (GPS), used in detection aircraft to ‘freeze’ fire coordinates, rely on satellite technology. In Quebec, all light detection aircraft have been equipped with GPSF since 1994. Click on SOPFEU, Quebec’s fire protection agency, to find out more the use of GPSF technology in fire detection.
  • Communication satellites make direct, reliable radio transmission possible in the most remote areas in the country. In the future, satellite technology may play an even bigger role in fire detection. It may be so sensitive, and so powerful, that it will be able to locate and report wildfire directly. Obviously such a development would fundamentally alter the complex fire prediction and detection systems in place today. See Satellite Detection of Forest Fires, Natural Resources Canada, for more information.
Photo Credit:
Canadian Wildland Fire Information System [Fire M3 Hotspots to 30 Sept. 2003]
Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre[Wildfire]
Online Exhibits