AURORA, Colo. – The Colorado and California National Guard have a new way to save lives and mitigate property damage from wildfires called FireGuard.
Using military-operated satellites and 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,” said Mike Morgan, director, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
FireGuard teams work around the clock to watch 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 to provide critical information to conduct evacuations and accurately allocate resources in an evolving wildfire.
During the 2021 Marshall Fire that burned over 6,000 acres in Boulder County, Colorado, pilots could not fly over the fire due to high winds. The FireGuard team provided the only products available to partners during the initial eight hours, facilitating the evacuation of 35,000 people and saving lives.
Without the information provided by Task Force FireGuard, Morgan said, 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,” said Peter Vidmar, intelligence unit chief, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
U.S. Army Col. William DiProfio, chief of the joint staff, Colorado National Guard, said FireGuard has become an integral part of the Guard’s domestic operations portfolio.
“Our Task Force is providing early detection of wildfires on a national level, something that hasn’t existed until now,” he said.
The FireGuard team has discovered numerous fires before 911 calls come in and has proven to be more accurate and detailed than “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 by saving lives and preventing property damage, a core mission of the National Guard.
“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.