Fire crews pinpoint wildfire flames

Even when heavy smoke cloaks the roughly 48,640-acre Douglas Complex fire, the flames can't hide from firefighters.

Using infrared technology, they are able to keep track of the hot spots within the fire's tracks.

An aircraft armed with infrared gear flies over the fire, which is centered about seven miles northwest of Glendale, mapping the hottest areas, said Brian Ballou of the Oregon Department of Forestry.

"It flies over the fire and finds the hot spots for us," he said. "Using GPS, we generate a map that gives us accurate maps of hot spots on the ground. It works very well for us."

On the ground, some of the firefighters deploy with hand-held infrared devices, which can detect hot spots in a burned tree root or pile of debris, he said.

"It takes a little practice because you are looking at a broad area that is burned, but it is able to detect subtle hot spots," he said. "That's also very handy for us."

Being able to pinpoint the location where fire is smoldering underground can save a lot of time and money, he said, noting that such a fire can burn undetected for a week or two before popping up.

"Without infrared, you can dig and dig and never find it," he said.

Over on the 19,600-acre Big Windy Complex fire some 25 miles northwest of Grants Pass, an airplane is sent aloft each night to gather infrared information about that fire, observed Jim Whittington, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.

"We get infrared data from flights every night," he said. "With it, we are able to get the fire's perimeter and estimate acreage. "It's a pretty big tool for us."

The Big Windy Complex is 20 percent contained, while the Douglas Complex is about 78 percent contained. The estimated date for full containment on both fires is Sept. 1. Both were ignited by lightning on July 26.

However, lightning storms predicted for today and Thursday could trigger more wildfires in southern Jackson and Josephine counties, according to weather forecasters.

"The good news is the storm is supposed to get progressively wetter," Ballou said. "We're hoping for the wet part."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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