6 Mar 2017

High-tech firefighting helps defend Canterbury

10:04 pm on 6 March 2017

A fire swept across 2000 hectares of Christchurch's Port Hills last month - followed by a scrub fire near Hanmer Springs that brought the main route between Christchurch and Picton to a standstill and devastated large areas of private land.

But new technology has given firefighters extra tools in their fight against the blazes.

Heat-seeking drones

Drones equipped with heat-detecting infrared cameras are among them.

Selwyn incident controller Mike Grant said this technology was invaluable in identifying and preventing flare-ups.

Mr Grant said fires could burn as deep as 1.5m underground.

"There is a lot of fire that is burning underground that is not visible to the firefighters ... This technology is really helping us to get to this fire."

A firefighter dampens a hotspot in the Port Hills.

A firefighter dampens a hotspot in the Port Hills - and drones were used to help spot the potential trouble spots. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

The drones could be flown over the fire area at night and in the afternoon to identify hotspots, which were then mapped.

Those maps could be downloaded directly to a firefighter's cellphone, giving them an up-to-date fire tracker in their pocket.

Mr Grant said using infrared drones was common in other industries, but had only recently been adopted in rural firefighting.

Full-scale, remote-controlled diggers

A South Island business offered its remote-controlled diggers as a way to safely combat the blaze.

Remote-controlled diggers allow drivers to clear hazardous areas without putting themselves in danger.

Remote-controlled diggers allow drivers to clear hazardous areas without putting themselves in danger. Photo: Supplied / Protranz

Earthmoving and demolition contractor Protranz is one of the only organisations in the world to operate diggers that are controlled remotely.

Protranz owner Gerad Daldry said the diggers, built to tackle the most dangerous demolitions after the Canterbury earthquakes, offered an obvious safety benefit to the drivers.

"If you want to do something extreme ... at least there is no one in the digger," Mr Daldry said.

Mr Daldry said the machines working on the Port Hills were contolled by an operator in a helicopter, well away from any danger.

The original digger cost $800,000 to build, and Protranz now operated four of them.

Mr Daldry said he was developing new technology to help firefighting, including a remote-controlled water cannon.

Port Hills fire damage:Ohinetahi Bush Reserve

The remains of the Ohinetahi Bush Reserve after the Port Hills fire. Photo: Supplied

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