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  Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 23(5)

Use of night vision goggles for aerial forest fire detection

L. Tomkins A, T. Benzeroual A, A. Milner A, J. E. Zacher A, M. Ballagh B, R. S. McAlpine C, T. Doig D, S. Jennings D, G. Craig D and R. S. Allison A E

A Centre for Vision Research, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON, M3J 1P3, Canada.
B Ministry of Natural Resources, Forest Fire Management Centre, 6150 Skyline Drive, Postal Bag 500, Garson, ON, P3L 1W3, Canada.
C Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Service, Ministry of Natural Resources, 70 Foster Drive, Sault Ste Marie, ON, P6A 6V5, Canada.
D Flight Research Lab, National Research Council of Canada, 1200 Montreal Road, M-3, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0R6, Canada.
E Corresponding author. Email: allison@cse.yorku.ca

International Journal of Wildland Fire 23(5) 678-685 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF13042
Submitted: 16 March 13  Accepted: 7 March 2014   Published: 27 June 2014

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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.


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