Police helicopter helps crews find, fight spate of wildfires using thermal cameras

The Winnipeg police helicopter has helped firefighters on the ground locate hotspots from above several times since the beginning of May as parts of the province experience extremely dry spring conditions.

Infrared technology useful in illuminating hot spots from above in smoke-filled, flat areas

Spotting Winnipeg wildfires from above with infrared helicopter camera

4 years ago
Duration 0:58
The Winnipeg Police Service has been lending Air1 to recent wildfire suppression efforts.

Winnipeg police have lent a helping hand from above this month as house and wildfires continue to spread through southern Manitoba amid extremely dry spring conditions.

The police helicopter Air1 and its thermal imaging cameras were used in nine fires in the first eight days of May to direct crews to fires and previously unknown hotspots on the ground related to blazes smouldering in the bush, woods or otherwise out of view. Police released video recordings from Air1 Thursday of its efforts to help firefighters. 

"It's fantastic; it gives you a really good view of the asset that [Air1] is," said Winnipeg's assistant chief of fire rescue operations Ihor Holowczynsky. "It really helps us."

Burn bans remain in effect throughout much of the Interlake, southern Manitoba and Winnipeg, the latter of which is in the midst of its fourth driest spring in about 150 years.

Parts of southern Manitoba have gone between 49-60 days without more than 0.5 millimetres of rain. (John Sauder/CBC)

Air1 was dispatched to wildfires and house fires on Spence Street, Redonda Street and Paulley Drive, Crescent Drive, Day Street and Gunn Road, Main Street and St. John's Avenue and Whiteshell Avenue. It also helped crews fighting a blaze at the heavily wooded Transcona Bioreserve.

Holowczynsky said the benefit of having Air1 involved is that the helicopter can cover wide areas quickly and scan the ground for fires using infrared technology.

Air1 illuminates a hot spot using infrared technology from above. The Winnipeg police helicopter helped crews in several fire and wildfire suppression efforts in the city in the first days of May. (Winnipeg Police Service)

"Even in the daytime it's difficult to tell where it's coming from," he said. 

"We don't have a lot of hills for vantage points here, so you pull up to a field on fire [and] it's smoke, so you can't really tell where it's going or where would we start to mitigate that, so having that overhead view really helps."

Holowczynsky said grass and brush fires have been a problem because the city didn't receive that much snow in the winter or rain this spring.

"We recently had hot, dry, windy conditions; that's the ideal recipe for grass and brush fires to occur," he said. "It doesn't take much to get it started and then to propagate across larger areas."

Homeowners should keep their lawns and property clear of woody debris that could act as tinder to fires, Holowczynsky added.

Another wildfire is lit up as seen through the Air1 infrared camera. (Winnipeg Police Service)