Wildfire science: computer models, drones and laser scanning help fan the flames and prevent widespread devastation

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Experts believe that with drier, hotter weather becoming the norm, even more wildfires could rage in the future. That’s why scientists are using the latest technology to monitor intentionally ignited fires.

At past midnight on a Thursday night in June, researchers in Utah are still sending excited emails, updating each other on the day’s action. The team has just finished following a huge fire that has ripped through a remote area of the Fishlake National Forest in the south of the state. And they’re still buzzing.

This was no wildfire. It was intentionally set. Early in the afternoon, ignition helicopters were sent in to start the burn. Utah University atmospheric scientist, Adam Kochanski, watched the flames unfold.

“There were two helicopters with so-called heli-torches – kind of like flame-throwers – just suspended beneath,” he recalls. “They were flying back and forth, and on top of that there were some ground crews with handheld torches and they also started fires on the ground.”

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