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Computer program pinpoints high-risk fire areas

The Story


Battling forest fires can be costly and time-consuming, especially in an area where firefighters are far from where flames can break out. But the Outaouais Conservation Society in Quebec has a method that helps them decide where to send firefighters before a fire starts. It's a computer program that tracks lightning strikes and other data to determine danger zones. As this report from CBC Ottawa shows, the successful system will soon be introduced in other regions. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: May 8, 1986
Guest(s): Thomas Grimes, Web Watson
Reporter: Karen Flanagan-McCarthy
Duration: 3:07

Did You know?


• Computer programs are used extensively in forest fire research. In 1993 a mathematician at Brandon University in Manitoba developed a program that could predict the path of a forest fire. The software considers wind direction, speed and other data to help authorities decide whether to treat a fire or evacuate nearby residents.

• According to Canadian Geographic magazine, Saskatchewan's fire agency recently developed a fire-modelling computer program called Prometheus. The system is so sophisticated, fire managers can pose scenarios for the software to evaluate: Would water bombing work on this fire? The program uses data such as daily weather patterns, fire-growth equations and fire behaviour to reach its conclusions.

• In 1971 a company called Computing Devices of Canada worked with the Canadian government to develop an electronic forest fire warning system. Remote monitoring stations were placed in forest areas and connected by a radio frequency telemetry link to a master station. Digital clocks at the master stations would prompt an inquiry to the remote stations, which would report conditions such as rainfall, wind speed and temperature.

• Each year up to 4,000 forest fires in Canada are caused by lightning.
• Environment Canada can detect lightning strikes using 81 sensors in forests across Canada. Lightning disturbs the earth's magnetic field and these disturbances are tracked by the sensors, which are also equipped with GPS receivers and satellite dishes. The information is relayed by satellite to a centre in Arizona, which locates the strike and passes the data to Environment Canada in a few seconds.

• Quebec's seven conservation societies were established in 1972 to prevent and fight fires in their own regions. Members of the societies pay annual dues to cover the costs of forest fire prevention and firefighting. The cost of putting out fires is refunded in part by the province, giving the societies an incentive to push prevention efforts. Among the societies' members are government representatives, forestry industry officials and landowners with large holdings.


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