FEATURE: Here Comes the Rain Again — Air tanker testing moves into the forest canopy

An Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry helicopter hovers over the forest near Ghost Lake Road, Aug. 23, gathering data from an infra-red camera following a pass from a waterbomber. The West Fire Centre played host to a second round of testing with firefighting aircraft this past week, this time taking an in-depth look at how water dropped from aircraft interacts with the forest canopy.    Photo by Chris Marchand

By Chris Marchand

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests, The Canadian Forest Service and FPInnovations were back for round-two of a scientific study gauging the effectiveness of air tanker planes — this time under the forest canopy.

The agencies gathered at Dryden Regional Airport back in July using a variety of techniques to measure the ‘footprint’ of air tanker payload of water using very sensitive infra-red cameras and other means within the drop zone to gather data.

An Ontario Canadair CL-415 Air Tanker releases its payload into an instrument riddled section of forest off Ghost Lake Road, Aug. 23, part of ongoing testing to analyse the effectiveness of firefighting aircraft. Photo by Chris Marchand

While their initial experiments took place adjacent to the airport runway in a wide-open field, last week’s experiment took the same methodology and applied it to a more realistic setting, the forest canopy. 

A patch of forest near Ghost Lake Road, outfitted with a grid of small water-collecting containers, relative humidity sensors and ‘go-pro’ style video cameras was chosen to observe just how much moisture is getting to the ground. Hovering several thousand feet above, a research scientist from the Canadian Forest Service trained his infra-red camera on the scene.

From left: Canadian Forest Service Fire Research Scientist Mike Wotton, OMNRF Fire Science Specialist Colin McFayden and FPInnovations Wildland Fire Operations Technician Rex Hsieh prepare to anchor a large red helium-filled balloon just above the treetops — a marker to show an incoming water bomber the drop zone during testing last week. Photo by Chris Marchand

“The first phase was more about the physics of water as it drops from a tanker in sort of an optimum environment that’s open and all you have to worry about is weather, wind and speed of the aircraft.” said OMNRF Fire Science Specialist Colin McFayden. “Now we’re throwing water through a filter to see how the canopy intercepts it. How much water penetrates the canopy to the combustion zone at the base of the trees. With the IR (infra-red camera) we should also see how trees are actually wetted when we throw water at the canopy. The next step is to move it to actual experimental fires. Once we understand how the water falls, is intercepted through the canopy, then we’ll do some tests on how it affects fire intensity.”

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