Cal Fire unveils new aircraft camera to help fight fires

ODIN video camera can relay wildfire images

SAN DIEGO - Cal Fire unveiled its latest firefighting tool Tuesday.  It is a unique camera mounted on the belly of its air attack coordinating aircraft.

The technical name for it is the Operational Downlink Information Network System or ODIN for short. It is a small video camera mounted in a gyroscope casing on the belly of Cal Fire's OV-10 Bronco. The aircraft is used as an air coordinator for fires.
 
The Cal Fire air attack coordinator, who sits behind the pilot in the Bronco, operates the camera with a video game controller. Though the controller is familiar, the ODIN system is one-of-a-kind.
 
"It's a downlinking video camera, an infrared camera," said Cal Fire Chief Ray Chaney, who has been testing the camera during the past month.
 
Before the camera was installed, smoke from fires would have blocked where fires were burning. Coordinators like Chaney would not have been able to tell other aircraft or firefighters on the ground where exactly the fires were burning.  The new ODIN camera also has an infrared capability that sees the fire through the smoke.
 
"It's an amazing tool," said Cal Fire spokesman Capt. Mike Mohler.
 
The images can be viewed in the plane by the air attack coordinator and simultaneously on the ground. The system speeds up communication and allows firefighters to attack fires more effectively.
 
"It changes the dynamics of fighting fires dramatically," said San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who spearheaded the effort to purchase the system. His office solicited federal grants and money from SDG&E to pay for the $198,000 system.
 
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said it is better to spend a little now instead of a lot later.
 
"Then it just saves a tremendous amount of time and money later on," he said.
 
Wildfires like the ones in 2003 and 2007 left millions of dollars in damage in their wake. The ODIN system promises to help prevent that kind of devastation in the future.
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