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NRC Forestry Students’ Geographic Information System Project Helps Firefighters Stop 25-acre Forest Fire in Erving State Forest

Posted: May 24th, 2010

NRC student William Ashton, on the jobTwo NRC Forestry students, William Ashton and Christopher Capone, took advantage of the class project in NRC’s “Introduction to Spatial Technologies” (NRC297s) course to develop a Geographic Information System to inventory and map 16 “fire holes” in Erving State Forest. These fire holes are human made ponds constructed back in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Core meant to store, pump and draft water for forest fires. Ashton, a seasonal firefighter and fire tower operator for this forest, saw the need to map these because many of the fire ponds have been lost or forgotten over time, and recently, the fire control district began a project to find, brush-cut, dredge, and clearly mark these ponds with signs. Ashton and Capone decided to complement this effort by geo-locating these water sources using Global Positioning Systems, and then developing a set of map products using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that could be kept in Fire Trucks and at the main office.

Shortly after the project was complete (May 2010), a lightning strike occurred, igniting a 25-acre fire buried deep in the State Forest. Fire crews immediately capitalized on Ashton and Copone’s newly created maps, easily located two of these pump sites, and utilized their water supply to stop the fire.

Fire Hole in Erving State Forest

An additional benefit of Ashton and Capone’s project is that their GIS project was built using an open source software product called Quantum GIS, which is free software that can be downloaded and utilized by local forest fighting crew with limited budgets for this kind of technology. Aston hopes to continue to maintain and add further information to this system over time. Ashton says: “Without this NRC class, these areas would still be hidden from most emergency workers. Chris and I worked hard to produce clear and accurate maps to help facilitate fast action in these situations, and the GIS class at UMass helped us obtain the skills and knowledge to do so.”