Aerial patrols counter increased wildfire threat caused by lightning strikes

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COLORADO SPRINGS – Lightning in the forecast increases fire danger in southern Colorado. Lots of light with only a little rain adds another risk to the current wildfire problem. On Wednesday afternoon, firefighters responded to multiple blazes as a storm with lightning swept through El Paso County.

Lightning can occur miles from where it is raining. Dry lightning can also occur.

“The area is so dry in Colorado that a thunderstorm or light storm will start raining, rain may not reach the ground, but lightning does,” News5 meteorologist Sam Schreier said.

Colorado’s Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA) program is a proactive way to counter the threat caused by lightning and other fire sources, especially in rural areas.

“With this technology, we can see a campfire 30 miles away,” said unit chief Bruce Dikken.

The MMA program has two aircraft and two crews. The planes are equipped with high-tech tracking equipment. Infrared cameras, for example, identify very small sources of heat and fire 20,000 feet in the air.

“It’s very sensitive, it picks up hot spots really well,” Dikken said, “Much more effective than the traditional way of looking out the window and looking for smoke.”

The program has proven to be effective in spotting early fire outbreaks. “There was a day in July [last summer] where we had 30 new fires,” Dikken said.

All of these fires were dealt with before they became headline-grabbing threatening situations. “We find them before they become a problem,” Dikken said.

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