The Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) aviation unit held their annual multi-mission aircraft training this week (May 16-20) in Salem, Oregon. This opportunity gives the department a chance to train personnel who will help with wildfire detection using the ODF-owned Partenavia P-68 Observer.
The Partenavia has had many uses in the last 40 years, but its most recent function is as the platform for ODF’s nighttime detection work. It is equipped with a FLIR infrared camera system that is paired with an augmented reality mapping system.
During fire season, the Partenavia will fly at night to easily detect wildfires started by lightning. During their time in the air, the observer, or camera operator, in the plane will look for hot spots using the infrared camera on the bottom of the plane.
“The accuracy of the Partenavia’ s FLIR infrared camera system allows for the observer to detect fires as small as a campfire from 12,000 feet in the air,” Jamie Knight, Aviation Operations Specialist, said. “Once a wildfire is detected, the observer can pin the location and alert nearby fire protection agencies so that they may quickly respond to the fire.”
Aside from detecting smaller fires, the Partenavia is also used as “eyes in the sky” for larger incidents. Once over the fire, the observer can provide a high-level view of a fire and report to the firefighters on the ground about the progress and any increases in fire behavior.
During the summer months, the aircraft is centrally based in Redmond to allow access to the entire state. Using the Partenavia as a detection tool is just one of the ways that ODF works to prevent larger wildfires.