FTS ran a pilot project with its Remote Automated Observation System (RAOS). The FTS RAOS was installed on the Gentry Lookout Tower in the Apache-Sitgreave National Forests in Arizona. FTS wanted to show the importance of having a high power zoom, remote control camera located at a location with good field of view, such as a lookout tower for monitoring and detecting forest fires.
The FTS RAOS was used daily to scan the horizon, typically at the start and end of shift. On March 26, the customer was using the FTS RAOS over his lunch break, and noticed something unusual. After positioning and zooming the camera it was determined that this was smoke potentially from a wildfire.
The customer took immediate action, informed the dispatch center of the smoke sighting and using local knowledge the incident response team headed to the site of the potential fire. The dispatch center was also able to confirm and monitor the smoke column. The incident response team arrived on site and found approximately a 5-acre wildfire. The team was able to contain the Whiskey fire before it exceeded 10 acres. This rapid response was possible because the fire was detected with enough time in the day for the team to respond effectively.
The fire was located approximately 7 miles from the Gentry Lookout Tower. Without the FTS RAOS it could have taken up to 2 days before the fire would have been visible from the nearest town which was 5 miles away. Fuels crew and local fire resources were working to the West of the lookout tower; the Whiskey fire was East of the tower where no fire personnel or resources were scheduled to work.
Overall the FTS RAOS functioned as intended and was a useful tool to help firefighters respond to a wildfire in a timely and efficient manner, and helped provide information that might have otherwise been unavailable.