High-tech fire attack faces biggest test with recent San Diego fires

SAN DIEGO - A high-tech fire attack plan featuring a mounted camera on a Cal Fire plane faced its biggest test yet during this week’s massive San Diego Complex.

“I think it performed very well,” Cal Fire Deputy Chief Marc Hafner said.

Cal Fire spotter planes have been equipped with a mounted camera since 2012, allowing incident commanders on the ground to see the firefight from above. Fire crews also tapped into the camera's infrared capabilities during the Cocos, allowing the plane to see through the smoke.

The cameras are part of a high-tech system called Next-Generation Incident Command (NICS), which went online in San Diego County about two years ago.

“Think of it as shared whiteboarding,” Hafner said.

Through NICS, fire crews, trucks and aircraft are tracked online like pieces of a chessboard.

“If I know where my resources are, I know where I can put them,” Hafner said.

The fire perimeter can be updated by the plane camera and field crews.

In 2003 and 2007, fire scouts used to draw the perimeters on a map. By the time they got back to the incident commander, the maps were obsolete. Now those maps are near-real time. In the recent fires, that mean strike teams could be quickly sent to where the fire was headed.

County Supervisor Ron Roberts helped secure the grants and county funding for NICS.

“We're looking at something we think is going to have a profound effect on firefighting,” Roberts said.

Other states and countries, even NATO, have contacted local officials in hopes of adopting a similar online fire attack.

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