The Colorado and California National Guard have a new way to save lives and mitigate property damage from wildfires called FireGuard.
Utilizing military-operated satellites and incorporating civilian resources from the National Interagency Fire Center, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Forest Service, service members can detect wildfires, notify authorities, and create products that can be disseminated to firefighting networks nationwide.
One of the most critical components in saving lives and property during rapidly escalating fires is being able to make decisions based upon accurate and reliable situational awareness,” Director, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Mike Morgan said.
FireGuard teams work around the clock to keep a constant eye on rugged, often inaccessible terrain across the country. Analysts then create polygons, a system of drawing on a map to visually represent the movement of fires based on atmospheric, geographical, fuel sources, and topographic data. These polygons are then disseminated to local authorities in real-time to provide critical information to conduct evacuations and accurately allocate resources in an ever-evolving wildfire.
During the 2021 Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado, that burned more than 6000 acres, high winds prevented normal procedures of manned overflight. The FireGuard team provided the only products available to partners during the initial eight hours of the incident. This facilitated the evacuation of 35,000 people, saving lives in the process.
Morgan stated that without the information provided by Task Force FireGuard, situational awareness at all levels would have been significantly degraded.
“Over the last two years, the FireGuard program has generated more than 47,000 geospatial products on more than 3,500 fires across the United States,” Intelligence Unit Chief, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Peter Vidmar said. “This speaks both to the persistent nature of FireGuard support and the scale of the fire problem across the country. With more extreme weather conditions, the increase in Wildland-Urban Interface exposure, and the concept of a fire year instead of a fire season, the early clarity and situational awareness that FireGuard provides helps fill a capability gap.”
The National Guard is uniquely fitted to support the FireGuard mission due to the special training and classification requirement of the job.
“FireGuard has become an integral part of our domestic operations portfolio,” CONG Chief of the Joint Staff U.S. Army Col. William DiProfio said. “Our Task Force is providing early detection of wildfires on a national level, something that hasn’t existed until now.”
The FireGuard team has had many instances of discovering a fire before 911 calls come in and has proven to be more accurate and detailed than the information from ‘eyes on’ reporting.
“While FireGuard is meant to be an additional layer of notification, not a replacement to the 911 system, it is typically the best method of discovering fires in remote areas where humans may not be present,” Morgan said.
FireGuard is a testament to how blending military and civilian resources can improve the lives of community members around the nation by saving lives and preventing loss of property, a core mission of the National Guard.
“It is impactful to know that you can walk outside and see the smoke column of the fire you are providing critical updates for, as was the case for the Marshall fire,” Vidmar said.
According to DiProfio, the National Guard is Always Ready, Always There to respond to requests for support from local first responders who need to react quickly to disasters such as floods, tornadoes and wildfires especially when they exceed civilian capabilities.
“FireGuard is changing the game when it comes to early fire detection and real-time tracking which has resulted in a much more effective way of preventing loss of life and property in Colorado, California, and around the country,” DiProfio said.