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Use of night vision goggles for aerial forest fire protection

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Night-time flight searches using night vision goggles have the potential to improve early aerial detection of forest fires, which could in turn improve suppression effectiveness and reduce costs. Two sets of flight trials explored this potential in an operational context. With a clear line of sight, fires could be seen from many kilometres away (on average 3584 m for controlled point sources and 6678 m for real fires). Observers needed to be nearer to identify a light as a potential source worthy of further investigation. The average discrimination distance, at which a source could be confidently determined to be a fire or other bright light source, was 1193 m (95% CI: 944 to 1442 m). The hit rate was 68% over the course of the controlled experiment, higher than expectations based on the use of small fire sources and novice observers. The hit rate showed improvement over time, likely because of observers becoming familiar with the task and terrain. Night vision goggles enable sensitive detection of small fires, including those that were very difficult to detect during daytime patrols. The results demonstrate that small fires can be detected and reliably discriminated at night using night vision goggles at distances comparable to those recorded for daytime aerial detection patrols.

L. Tomkins; T. Benzeroual; A. Milner; J.E. Zacher; M. Ballagh; R.S. McAlpine; T. Doig; S. Jennings; G. Craig; R.S. Allison

Tomkins L, Benzeroual T, Milner A, Zacher JE, Ballagh M, McAlpine RS, Doig T, Jennings S, Craig G, Allison RS. Use of night vision goggles for aerial forest fire protection. International Journal of Wildland Fire [Internet]. 2014 ;On-line early. Available from:

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