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Technology helps firefighters on land, in air

  • Story Highlights
  • Fire engines, trucks and bulldozers help fight fires from the ground
  • Tactical planes, airtankers and helicopters provide aid from the air
  • NASA satellites aid firefighters from space
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(CNN) -- Modern technologies are giving Southern California firefightersa a leg up on the 16 wildfires ravaging 425 square miles from north of Los Angeles to southeast of San Diego since the weekend.

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NASA satellites capture the wildfires raging in Southern California.

From the ground, the California Department of Forestry and Fire protection has more than 3,000 fire and emergency response and resource protection vehicles at their disposal.

Fire engines pump water and foam over homes engulfed in flames, while bulldozers clear debris and carve out paths for crews making their way across rugged terrain.

Crew-carrying vehicles, mobile kitchen units, mobile communications units, trailers, forklifts, construction equipment, support units, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and insect control vehicles are also in use.

From the air, tactical planes direct 1,200 gallon airtankers and Super Huey helicopters to critical areas for retardant and water drops.

Fire retardant is a slurry mix of a chemical salt compound, water, clay or a gum-thickening agent. Ammonium phosphate and iron oxide give the retardant its distinctive red color.

"The retardant creates a barrier that slows or redirects the fire and it can also help reduce the heat emitted by the fire," according to Computer Sciences Corporation, which provides technical support to the USDA Forest Service and the National Interagency Fire Center.

Helicopter crews called "Helitacks" help suppress the fires by dropping water, foam or retardant from a bucket attached to the bottom of the helicopter. Learn about the tools and techniques used to fight wildfires »

"Two air tankers, a helicopter, a bulldozer, five engines and a hand crew or two comprise the standard wildland fire dispatch in high-risk areas and during hot, dry or windy conditions," Computer Sciences Corporation reports on its Web site. Video Watch crews battle the fires »

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Planes and helicopters equipped with infrared sensors, record ground data that crews with laptops and GPS devices use to track wildfire movement, pinpoint firefighters on the scene and predict how the fires will spread. Analysts also can use the data to determine the most effective strategy for stopping the fires.

From space, NASA satellites provide imagery of the wildfires in near real time. These images help the California Department of Forestry and Fire track the fires. See satellite imagery of the fires » E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Wildfires

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