The Oregon Department of Forestry is working with CO Fire Aviation, an aerial resource vendor, to test the effectiveness and safety of nighttime use of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) to fight wildfires in Oregon.
Exploratory testing started Monday night, July 15, at the John Day Airport, and continued Tuesday night, according to an ODF press release. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, testing will transition from the airport to private lands protected by ODF’s John Day Unit in Grant County. ODF and CO Fire Aviation are coordinating with local emergency personnel and dispatch centers to provide current information on the operation.
This testing evaluates the feasibility of using advanced night vision technology to identify firefighters and any hazards on the ground. Testing operations include on-the-ground firefighters communicating with the pilot via radio, using lights and lasers to identify drop areas. Information gathered during the testing will be used to determine whether night SEAT operations would be a viable tool.
“ODF consistently evaluates advances in technology to support our mission to safely suppress wildfires at the smallest size possible,” ODF State Aviation Manager Neal Laugle said. “Safety is first and foremost, which is why exploratory testing like this is so important. Using SEATs at night would allow firefighters to take advantage of the reduced fire activity typical in the evening hours. These aviation resources could support ground firefighters by slowing the fire’s spread and intensity.”
Outcomes of this testing phase will determine the next steps in evaluating the potential use of this innovative technology.