The U.S. Forest Service has battled fire with fire for nearly a century, but it wasn't until the past decade that backburning--in which professionals set brush alight before a wildfire does--became an exact science. Wildfire experts call this science prescribed burning, and its practitioners are known as burn bosses. Here are three increasingly precise tools to stop a wildfire cold.
Deployed during huge backcountry burns, heli-torches launch a mixture of gelled gasoline (napalm) from a 55-gallon drum housed within the belly of a helicopter. Aerial burn bosses can set a mile of prescribed burns at a time, but they must have a steady hand--it's easy to lose control of the flame. For this reason, heli-torches are rarely used outside of Alaska.
For safer, more-precise firestarting, burn bosses launch ping-pong-size ignition spheres from a helicopter or airplane. As the balls tumble through the sky, about three grams of potassium permanganate and two milliliters of antifreeze mix. They hit the ground and, after 40 seconds, burst into flame. The heat generated from the reaction melts the sphere's plastic casing and ignites the surrounding kindling.
The Green Dragon
Mounted to a truck or ATV, the Green Dragon looks like a water cannon and launches flammable spheres, called Dragon Eggs, using a pressurized CO2 canister. Working on the ground, burn bosses can respond to fires more quickly. The machine shoots the plastic spheres up to 225 feet at a rate of 35 a minute. The device was first tested in 2009 and is now used in Colorado, California and Alaska.
As a wildland firefighter for two fire seasons with CDF (California Dept of Forestry) I have a few corrections I've actually seen the Heli-torch used many times in California on controlled burns, but the article is right I have seen the valve stick several times and the 'copter had to drop all at once. Two I personally never used or have seen either of the two used (except the ping pong balls on "Megafire" or some titled movie, and I believe that was filmed in the 90's, very cutting edge). Now the tool the firefighter is using in the article would be a familiar sight for any wildland firefighter, the trusty drip torch. Now that is a backfiring tool most have used, allowing you to fling a flaming mixture (2/3 gas 1/3 diesel) many yards into brush. Or another classic no one would be without the fusee, very similar to a flare, they can be stuck onto each other to make a stick for lighting brush. Not to cut down the article but I was very proud of the job and the things we did to do it, most guys would never touch the articles tools but most would use the others.
Keep it in check with your "fire-swatter":)