Washington National Guard using wartime technology to help fight wildfires across PNW

The Washington Air National Guard was busy Monday mapping out the McCleod wildfire in Okanogan County. They’re using infrared technology that normally helps pinpoint enemy targets.

“We essentially bring what we do in the military, which is dropping bombs on behalf of the Army, to here in fighting wildland forest fires,” said Lt. Col Rich Cullen, who worked Monday out of the command post in Leavenworth.

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The Air Guard flies RC-26 aircraft equipped with an infrared and video sensor. They map out the fire line, relay the information to a 40-foot antenna at the command post and then relay it to crews at the fire line.

“I can show the fire guy that I'm with, ‘Five seconds ago or literally five minutes ago, this is where your fire line was,’” Sgt. Jimmy Takach said. “And this is extremely valuable to them because before we came along, their information was half a day old.”

Crews on the ground have tablets that show the maps in real time.

“That airplane and that sensor is overlayed on the map,” Cullen said.  “So, you're not just looking at a picture of the fire, you're actually looking at fire behavior on the map.”

The Washington National Guard is using the technology for the second year supporting the National Interagency Fire Center out of Boise.  Over the past couple weeks, they've worked fires in Washington, Oregon and California.

“I've discovered two or three spot fires on the ground that they didn't know was there,” Takich sad.  “We were able to talk to firefighters on the ground, go to this place. One was, 'You're in your truck, look at your 7 o'clock position, 100 meters behind you there's a spot fire.’”

Their work is far from over. Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz told KIRO 7 new projections in the last week show wildfire season will go beyond September and well into October.