New laser solution could slow spread of forest fires

forms a compact high-moisture bed with restricted airflow. With less oxygen and densely packed fuel, the ground fire loses intensity and speed, and is easier to extinguish.

“We now aim at large-scale experiments and later on prototype development so that we can do outdoor real-life proof of concept testing,” Leigh says. “We are now seeking partnerships, licensing agreements and/or investments. The firefighting community is all excited to try it out but they need a demo tool to work with.”

The technology at the heart of FTF is patented in Israel, Australia and Europe; a US patent is pending. There is already interest in the technology from Australia, which suffers devastating wildfires every summer.

Safe zone

Leigh isn’t a firefighter, but he couldn’t bear to sit back and watch forest fires wreak destruction.

“My background in electro-optics brought me to ask what I could do,” says Leigh. Learning that canopy leaves are igniters and can regrow after being cut, he immediately thought of laser.

“While it’s not possible to cut down whole trees with a laser, I analyzed the process and realized I could use laser beams, sent from a safe distance, like a knife to cut off leaves remotely,” Leigh says.

He envisions FTF as a unique rescue tool to create a safe zone or an escape route for trapped firefighters or residents.

The same algorithm-controlled laser technology – which can work continuously in all weather conditions with no need to refill anything — theoretically could be used for cutting back lower-to-the-ground foliage in the path of fire, and could prove a valuable firefighting tool for sensitive worksites such as power companies and utilities.

Triangle of fire

Rami Zaretski, head of KKL-JNF Forest Fire Department, confirms that treetops’ combustible materials and halo of oxygen feed forest fires, often causing firestorms whipped by air currents created by the high-energy blaze itself, as well as firebrands — sources of heat that can create spot fires.

“This is the basic triangle of fire: heat, oxygen and combustion material,” Zaretski tells ISRAEL21c. “When we remove one of the components from this equation, or change the ratio, the burning will stop.”

He therefore likes the FTF concept but raised some questions about the approach on a practical level. For example, can it work fast and efficiently enough to prevent firebrands?

Leigh and Avni believe it will, thanks to the algorithmic control process. And the technology can enhance the capability of existing methods to isolate and control spot fires, they add.

How would the proposed process affect wildlife?

“Treetop fires are extremely hot and therefore kill all the animals in their vicinity,” Avni says. “The FTF tool will affect or injure some animals in the process. However, this will amount to a small fraction of the number of animals killed not using the FTF tools.”

In answer to Zaretski’s concern about the helicopter delivery method’s ability to function in high-smoke conditions and extreme wind, Leigh explains that measures would be taken to protect the engine from smoke, and the aircraft would maintain a safe distance from the fire front. The laser beams would be guided through the smoke by special imaging systems.

FTF’s new ‘out of the box’ method and tool is designed exactly for such extreme weather conditions that lead to fires uncontrollable with today’s wildfire fighting tools using chemicals and water for fire suppression,” says Leigh.

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. This article is published courtesy of Israel21c.