Governor Speaks at NASA Ames

July 14, 2008 9:53:51 PM PDT
It's not even in the middle of summer yet, but California has already shattered a wildfire record with 839,343 acres have burned as a result of one day of lightning strikes. It's the biggest single-fire event in recorded state history and the season's fire total could go beyond a million acres.

All evacuation orders have been lifted in Butte County. The fires there are 65 percent contained and the weather is improving. Two-hundred more homes in Monterey County were evacuated over the weekend, but that fire is now burning away from Big Sur, and Highway 1 is now completely re-opened.

Crews made headway in Santa Barbara County. Fifty-five homes near Goleta remain threatened, but the fire there is 90 percent contained.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) came to the Bay Area today to observe NASA's role in fighting the fires.

NASA'S remotely piloted aircraft named Ikhana doesn't drop water or retardant, but the drone's sensors and digital images makes it a firefighting superstar.

One that Governor Schwarzenegger learned more about on Monday at the NASA Ames Research Center.

"It basically lets us look right through the smoke and essentially create what is an MRI of the fire with complete geospatial awareness," said Div. Chief Steve Hipskind, from NASA Earth Science.

The aircraft and it's on board sensors relay real time information to incident commanders about where a fire is burning and how hot it is burning. The infrared and thermal imagery is superimposed over Google and Microsoft maps. That unique overview gives firefighters a valuable tool when it comes to deploying resources.

"You may have to change your entire strategy based on what this technology says and what you can see," said Chief Del Walters.

Case in point -- Ikhana was flying over Butte County on July 8th and while firefighters were battling flames, the onboard sensors detected another hot spot.

"Images from the drone revealed intense heat at the bottom of a canyon on the east side of Paradise in Butte County," said Schwarzenegger.

That information played a role in ordering a mandatory evacuation for 10,000 people in Paradise. NASA researchers say Ikahna is outperforming even their expectations.

"We always had high hopes for the aircraft and the sensor payload that it carries and it's just been amazing," said Chad Frost.

The Governor couldn't agree more, calling the drone a true life saver.

"Because of this great effort, lives were saved and structures were saved," said Schwarzenegger.

Ikhana is once again taking to the skies Tuesday to fly over the major fires in Northern California with another mission scheduled for Thursday.


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