Buckley AFB missile detection systems could help develop technology to find forest fires immediately

Posted at 8:50 PM, Jul 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-13 00:39:56-04

Technology now being used to track missiles could soon be used to catch forest fires just as they start.

Right now, Colorado uses infrared cameras on airplanes to seek out potential fires and map existing ones.

"From 18,000 feet and 30 miles away, you can see a camp fire," said Bruce Dikken, the Multi-Mission Aircraft Chief for the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

Searching for fires currently requires someone to fly the plane over an area they believe might be burning.

"We'll go out on detection routes, often in response to red flag conditions like we have right now, or lightning that we know has occurred," said Dikken. "We're normally out in response to fire conditions; lightning, something that would cause us to think that there might be some sort of ignition out there."

Denver7 found out there's technology being developed, based on missile detection which is done at Buckley Air Force Base, that could help find fires before anyone sees smoke.

"There was an announcement about a year ago that we will develop this capability and now we're progression along that track," said Col. John Wagner, Installation Commander at Buckley Air Force Base. "If there's enough energy and our sensors can see it, then absolutely, they'll detect. It'll look like a static infrared event, as opposed to a moving infrared event."

Wagner, who also commands the 460th Space Wing, said the same satellite technology that tracks heat signatures of missiles is being honed to identify fires on the ground.

"How do you go from tracking heat signatures of a missile to being able to track potentially the heat signature of a forest fire?" asked Denver7 reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"At this latitude and longitude (for example), we see a potential increase in energy, and it's in the middle of the forest, and that can be texted immediately to regional authorities or local authorities," said Wagner. "They can go check that out, for example, before something turns into a full scale conflagration."

"Over the next several months, you'll start to see more and more come out on it," he said.

It's similar to how Global Position Systems became a household use. GPS was originally used for military purposes, and now it's wearable.

"When you think GPS, you don't think it was developed for the U.S. military and helped re-supply in the middle of the desert, and find something where we didn't have to use a map," said Wagner. "You think GPS now, and it's personal to you. If there's a personal use of this in the future, you know we're going to try and look at that."

One aspect that is still being worked on by the military is making sure any civilian product that can detect forest fires from space, won't also be able to detect missile launches.

"Until that technology comes into play, like you're talking about, if it ever does, our goal is to get out there and find those fires before they become active, so we can jump on them and put them out when they're small," said Dikken.