A special firefighting team with the Sierra National Forest hiked into the mouth of the 56,900-acre Rough fire on Thursday to drop special equipment in the blaze’s path, and data recorded by the equipment may help prevent future wildfires.
The 10-man Fire Behavior Assessment Team made their way to within a mile of the wildfire, which is now the second largest currently burning in California, Rough fire public information officer Shawn Lenske said. The team placed sensors that monitor temperature and wind conditions as well as GoPro cameras at several locations in the Rough fire’s path.
Lenske, who also works as a firefighter in Los Angeles, said the team members dropped one set of sensors and cameras in an area that had recently burned and another in an area that has never burned. Firefighters hope to learn just how effective proscribed burns and brush clearing are in slowing the path of a large wildfire and use that information to adjust recommended preventive measures for community members in areas at risk of fire.
The cameras and sensors will also allow firefighters to study the fire itself as it passes over the equipment. This may help manage the Rough fire, which was only 25 percent contained as of Thursday morning.
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The ultimate goal is to gather information that may help firefighters in the future, Lenske said.
Lenske said the journey itself was dangerous. Firefighters typically don’t get so close to an active wildfire, and each member of the team receives additional training to handle such missions. Scouts watching the Rough fire’s movements remained in constant radio contact with the team, and members verbally discussed possible escape routes during every step of the hike.
Once they reached their destination, the firefighters only had an hour to set up the equipment and leave, Lenske said.
Several other 10-man crews hiked into the John Muir Wilderness on Thursday to improve containment lines on the east side of the blaze. Lenske said these crews also had a limited amount of time to clear brush before hiking back.
The Rough fire continues to threaten structures in the Hume Lake and Balch Camp areas. It has claimed at least one structure, the Kings Canyon Lodge.
The blaze has cost an estimated $32.5 million to fight since it began with a lightning strike July 31.
More than 9,000 firefighters are battling 16 wildfires throughout California. More than 2,000 are currently fighting the Rough fire.