Technology helping firefighters on the front lines of Brown Fire - Tucson News Now

Technology helping firefighters on the front lines of Brown Fire

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Hotshot crews were shuttled off the Huachuca mountains on Friday, after they completed their work, digging a hand line around the perimeter of the Brown fire.

The fire is now 25 percent contained and has spread to 240 acres.  Officials said they had a good handle on things, but there was still concern with thunderstorms that have moved into the area.

While the humidity had helped, firefighters feared winds and lightning could create new starts over the weekend. 

Helping the fire managers and the hotshot crews on the front lines were a team of experts holed up in trailers set up at the base camp, inside Fort Huachuca.  They were the actual "intelligence" behind the Brown Fire.

The military had brought out their mobile command post on Monday.  They has been operating at the base camp, providing information to commanders on a 24-hour basis.

Computers inside the mobile command post were giving officials "real time" information they could relay to the men and women on the front lines.

"Technology is huge especially in a fire like this," said Tracey Penland, with Criminal Intelligence and a Civil liaison at Fort Huachuca.

"We can give incident commanders real time shots from above, he can see the hot spots looking through our infrared or regular black and white cameras to determine where to focus the attention," said Penland.

The military had about $350,000 worth of equipment in the mobile command post, that helped put technology right at their fingertips.  It also helped them relay information to the community almost as soon as they got it

"The last update we put on there, we brought all the firefighters off the mountain," said Penland.

Weather technology played a role in that.  Meteorologists from Fort Huachuca and the National Weather Service were working hand in hand to monitor conditions on the mountains.  The latest weather models showed winds and lightning could cause problems over the weekend.

"That's why I'm here, for firefighter safety and planning, and I'm giving all the information to the fire behavior analyst," said Carl Cerniglia, a National Weather Service Incident Meteorologist, who was working the Brown fire.

The fire behavior analyst across the aisle from Cerniglia, was also in the business of forecasting.  Not weather, but fire behavior.  Stewart Turner showed Tucson News Now a map of the Brown fire, and pointed out the big red spots, saying those were areas with heavy fuel, that indicated extreme heat on the map.  They were areas firefighters needed to be aware of.

"I predict how big the fire may get, the flame lengths, how far it may move, how long it may last."

While technology played a huge role, what actually put out the fire was the "boots on the ground".  The hotshot crews who had been camping up in the Huachuca mountains, about 8,000 feet high working in extremely rugged and steep terrain, with sheer cliff faces, digging hand lines.  Many of the hotshot crews had camped out in the Huachuca's for the last five days.  They were shuttled back down to the base camp by helicopter on Friday because of the potential of lightning.

Forest service investigators were at the fire line on Friday, trying to determine the point of origin and cause of the Brown fire.

Pre-evacuation notices have been lifted for those in the Ramsey Canyon area.  Cochise county sheriff's officials are advising residents to be aware of high traffic in the area, as many of the Type 1 fire crews may be leaving the area. 

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