Infrared man still fighting to get into Filmon fire report

By Marshall Jones, staff reporter (Capital News, Kelowna, British Columbia)

Curtis Bennett still gets no satisfaction from the Filmon inquiry into last summer’s forest fire situation.

As first reported by the Capital News, Bennett’s entire submission on the merits of practical application of infrared technology to fight fires was missing from Gary Filmon’s final report.

Bennett has attempted to contact the former Manitoba premier who led the inquiry but hasn’t heard much. Bennett was told that his submission to the inquiry was lost in a technical glitch.

In an E-mail to Bennett, Filmon apologized for the commission.

“I remember your presentation well and have mentioned it to several people,” Filmon wrote. “I hope there will be an interest in pursuing the infrared technology in B.C.”

On the advice of provincial ombudsman Rick Webber, Bennett now wants Filmon to file an addendum to the review budgeted at a half-million dollars.

Chris Shaw was an Army Reserve firefighter in Barrier and says the technology exploited by Bennett would be a great addition to the effort. Infrared, which measures visual temperatures, is currently used by the B.C. Forest Service and city fire crews but not in the same way, he said.

“Some of the imaging they have still has to be converted,” he added. “What Curtis is able to do is give it to you right away.”

Shaw is interested in Bennett’s submission, both as a front-liner at the time, but also as a communications officer with the B.C. Green Party, which has taken on Bennett’s cause. They both believe that the technology could help pilots see through smoke to drop their water. Shaw said it could also be used on the ground to put out hot spots. The current method of finding hot spots is a guessing game, somewhat akin to testing each piece of ground covered by a forest fire. Sometimes tree roots burn right through the ground and can flare up again with a gust of wind. Infrared can find those spots and tell crews when they are extinguished.

“This isn’t a partisan issue,” Shaw said. “I remember some of the reports, they were saying they’d like to send bombers in but they can’t see anything. When someone comes in and says here look at this, this is where your fire is, it’s about protecting people.”