Officials Tout New Aircraft to Aid California Firefighting Efforts

By Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
May 11, 2022 Updated: May 11, 2022

BURBANK, Calif.—Two aircraft equipped with state-of-the-art cameras and sensors may soon be available statewide to help California firefighting efforts.

As part of Wildfire Preparedness Month, fire officials displayed one of the planes, the “Intel-24” aircraft, May 10 at the Hollywood Burbank Airport.

The other plane was on duty helping crews fight the destructive wildfires in New Mexico, Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, told The Epoch Times.

“It’s super-efficient, super capable, and super helpful. It’s a new eye in the sky,” Ghilarducci said. “I would call it a game-changer with regards to us.”

Cameras attached to the outside of the fuselage allow for better visualization of fire activity on the ground, he said.

“This is flying at such a high altitude and it’s taking a picture with this high-resolution camera that’s actually watching the fire spread,” Ghilarducci said.

Epoch Times Photo
The “Intel-24” aircraft at the Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, Calif., on May 10, 2022. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
The “Intel-24” aircraft at the Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, Calif., on May 10, 2022. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

The data collected by the aircraft is sent to a supercomputer center located at the University of California–San Diego. The information allows firefighters and first responders to determine where the fire is headed and how big the blaze it is.

This allows responders to send the right resources to the fire in a strategic fashion, Ghilarducci said.

The aircraft system, called the Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System, or FIRIS, has also been used to help search for missing persons and respond to oil spills and other emergencies.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected May 13 to announce a $30 million funding request as part of his revised budget to fund statewide operations for two FIRIS planes this month through the Office of Emergency Services.

Epoch Times Photo
Officials display the “Intel-24” aircraft at the Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, Calif., on May 10, 2022. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

Southern California agencies have used the aircraft for three years, Orange County Fire Chief Brian Fennessy told The Epoch Times.

The craft has helped Orange County Fire assess fire size and help with other emergencies, such as determining the extent of an oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach in October caused by a container ship.

“It’s been a great resource for fire and law enforcement,” Fennessy said. “It’s responded to all of these other things beyond just wildfire.”

The specialized cameras can scan the ground using infrared technology, allowing them to read heat signatures from fires, and fuel moisture and other conditions, such as weather.

Epoch Times Photo
The “Intel-24” aircraft at the Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, Calif., on May 10, 2022. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

The camera can also be used to see infrastructure and send the information to smartphones for fire commands, operations centers, and state operations centers.

Eric Hall, a censor operator with AVEX Aerospace, demonstrated how operators can view fires on the ground using infrared and color technologies. The camera and sensors allow operators to quickly estimate fire size and location, he said.

“You can see the big difference in what you’re looking at with your naked eye versus what the camera sees,” Hall said.