Technology plays a vital role in all spheres of forestry today, ranging from silviculture to harvesting. Basic things like the chainsaw, advanced computerized mechanized harvesting machines, the GIS and computerized data base containing large memory banks. Forest fires, are one of natures most destructive forces, yet nothing has ever been done to improve forest fire detection methods which have remained the same for hundreds of years.
Forestry companies have sophisticated methods to combat fires, including well-trained ground crews, sophisticated foam and retardant, all backed by aerial support from air tankers, spotter planes and helicopters. In certain countries smokejumpers are still used with success. With all these systems in place thousands of valuable hectares of forestry are still lost to fire each year.
The major contributing factor for this is the late detection of fires. Ground crews and aerial support teams are only able to do something about a fire effectively if they reach them at the very early stage. They have no or very little effect once the fire has reached a certain size.
Manned lookout towers are as old as forestry itself. The human element associated with these lookout towers is the problem. More often than not, lookout towers are late in reporting fires. Guards have to work long hours under difficult circumstances with only short breaks in concentration. It is also very difficult for these staff members to pin point the actual location of any fire and to provide the best access details to the forester. Yet this antiquated method is still used in many parts of the world. Millions of dollars are spent annually in the combat of fires but nothing is done about their early detection.
Firehawk is the solution. The very first Computer Assisted Fire Detection System, which was deployed 21 years ago in 1994. FireHawk is a system whereby rotating high definition digital cameras, covering large forestry areas transmit information to a base station. The FireHawk software differentiates between fire, smoke and glow, and then raises an alarm. Positioning is done from a single camera, with the ability to cross reference for improved accuracy.
Trials and tests conducted in the early days of FireHawk proved, that no person sitting in a lookout tower would continuously look behind themselves, and within a very short period of time became tired of constantly turning around. Falling asleep was also a major problem. Now, by utilizing FireHawk, you have available a piece of technology which turns a full 360 degrees every 3 minutes and, images the area under surveillance. FireHawk also monitors Operator input and informs management should Operators breach any system protocols.
During the early days of FireHawk, three Commercial Timber Companies were compared. A and B made use of FireHawk, while Company C did not. The average fire size of Company A and B was 1.49ha, which is a remarkable difference of 4ha. Needless to say, Company C is now also covered by FireHawk.