CENTRAL OREGON (KPTV) - As wildfires burn across our state, special teams use infrared technology to map the fire lines from the skies to help crews battling the flames on the ground.
"Understanding how the fire grew overnight, infrared interpretation and infrared flights are the best tool that we have to do that," Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) Geographic Information Specialist Erik Larsen said.
Larsen is part of the process of taking infrared data and making it into a map for fire crews.
"Heat emits radiation in the form of infrared light, we can't pick that up with our visual eye, but we have sensors and cameras that can do that work for us. So it takes what we can't see and translates into something that we can see," Larsen said. "Infrared data goes beyond just where is the fire. It tells us where's the isolated heat within the fire, where are the intense heat sources, where is the heat more scattered."
Larsen says the larger the fire, the more resources crews will dedicate to using infrared technology from the air.
Whether they use that technology depends on the complexity of the fire.
Larsen says they factor in the fire's size, proximity to communities, and safety of firefighters.
Once the request for a flight goes out, he says they usually happen in the evening to not interfere with any daytime aircraft on the fire.
An infrared interpreter on the plane will translate the image into data that Larsen can then use to make maps.
"Setting the stage with an accurate map of the situation on the ground will improve the efficacy of the firefighting that happens the next day," Larsen said.
Larsen says fire maps are produced on a daily basis, even if aircraft don't fly the fire.
He says crews can also use other tools to map the fire, like drones.