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Infrared Technology Aboard Planes Will Help Crews Fight Wildfires

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) - New firefighting planes that boast infrared technology will help crews fight fires faster and smarter.

The planes' cameras collect heat-pattern data that help firefighters detect blazes through smoke. Images, which also show homes' locations, are overlaid on a map that an expert uses to pinpoint fires' location. That should mean getting to fires sooner and saving property and people.

"I call it a game-changer," Paul Cooke, the director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said. "I really, truly believe that it is."

Firefighting Planes
Overlays on a map show were fires are occurring. (credit: CBS)

Officials with the agency offered CBS4 a close look at the technology on Monday. Cooke said it will save lives, property and money.

"Hundreds of thousands of dollars in suppression costs, millions of dollars in suppression costs, hundreds of millions of dollars in lost property. This is known. We know that we will be able to do that," Cooke said.

"The information we collect from the aircraft is available to people across the state in seconds after we collect it," says Caleb Freeman of Sierra Nevada Corp., a company working on the technology.

The prototype aircraft, which can also help in the search for missing people, started flying at the end of last month. The state will get two specially designed planes in December.

The new multi mission aircraft (MMA)
The new multi mission aircraft (MMA) (credit: CBS)

The technology would have proven useful in past fires, including the Waldo Canyon Fire that levelled hundreds of homes in Colorado Springs in 2012. Firefighters couldn't find that fire for a day after it was first reported.

Next fire season, the planes might be flying before fires start, looking for lightning strikes.

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