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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

GPS systems used to track lightning strikes, to help stop wildfires

KKTV News 11 reports: "A local United States Colorado community has a high tech way to protect against fires. They have installed technology that tracks lightning strikes.

The community of Crystal Park Colorado decided to do this after they were evacuated during the Waldo Canyon Fire. When they came back, they discussed ways to protect their community from fires and this was one of those ideas."

The gated community is located southwest of Manitou Springs Colorado. There are 225 homes situated in 2,000 acres of rugged terrain and forest.

"It's a little bit risky to live up here, but it's beautiful and we enjoy it," said John Swafford, who lived in Crystal Park and is on the HOA board.  To protect the homes from wildfires, the HOA invested in technology that tracks lightning.  "What we've set up is a lightning location and analysis system," said Swafford.

Using a national sensor database, Swafford monitors where lightning hits the ground during a storm. If it's a stronger strike, the volunteer fire department uses GPS to find out where it hit and respond to the area.  The NLDN uses over 100 remote, ground-based sensing stations located across the United States that instantaneously detect the electromagnetic signals given off when lightning strikes the earth's surface.

"This system helps us to locate it precisely and also gauge how serious the lightning strike is and whether it was likely to have started a fire," said Swafford. "If you don't have data to say where it was then all you can do is wait for the smoke. This way we get a faster start on it."
Last Saturday during a storm, the system sent an alert to Crystal Park homeowner, Vic Russelavage. Lightning had struck less than 100 feet from his house. Fortunately, he didn't find any damage.  "It's nice to know when those hit because then you can go out once the dust clears and check things out," said homeowner Vic Russelavage.

The technology has been up and running for two weeks. In that time, there have been 11 lightning strikes recorded in Crystal Park.  The software costs about $8,000USD. The community got the money to pay for it from a grant from FEMA. They were one of 30 communities nationwide to be awarded the grant. Eventually, they will have to pay about $1,500USD a year to keep the subscription.