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Whistler to host simulated forest fire exercise Saturday

European Space Agency, B.C. Ministry of Forests testing REMSAT technology

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New technology known as the REMSAT (Real-time Emergency Management via Satellite) II System will be tested during a simulated forest fire exercise taking place in Whistler and Silver Star on Saturday.

Whistler was chosen as a simulation site because of its high profile and its proximity to a major airport, which will allow representatives of the European Space Agency (ESA) to be involved in the exercise.

As well, both Whistler and Silver Star are in areas of moderate to high seasonal fire risk and both are areas of wildland-urban interface. Much of the record damage that resulted from last summer’s forest fires occurred in wildland-urban interfaces.

ESA has partnered with the B.C. Ministry of Forests in order to develop effective ways to utilize REMSAT technology to fight forest fires. The Canadian Space Agency is sponsoring the simulation.

According to assistant Whistler fire chief Geoff Playfair, REMSAT combines real time imagery of the affected area with GIS information (such as topography, road maps, and water source locations) together with resource tracking information, such as the location of fire trucks and personnel.

"It’s basically like a having a chess board projected on the wall," said Playfair. "You can see all the pieces moving around. It simplifies the decision making process immensely. Without it the only information we would have would be from hand maps and hourly briefing sessions. With REMSAT we can see everything as it’s happening."

The REMSAT system can be used to predict where the fire will spread and how much damage it is likely to cause. This information is then used to come up with effective containment strategies.

Due to the simulation Whistler residents may notice some unusual activity on Saturday. Residents who have volunteered to be evacuated will be taken to a centre for evacuees at Spring Creek Community School run by Emergency Social Services. As well, fire vehicles, vehicles from the Ministry of Forests and military vehicles will be driving throughout the valley. Hikers and others in the simulated fire area may also encounter firefighters and observers.

The exact area of the simulated fire is not being disclosed in order to make the exercise more realistic for those responding to it.

In addition to testing response systems, the aim of the exercise is to educate the public about what residents can do in order to protect their community from forest fires. From 9 a.m. to noon on June 19, day skier lot 3 will be transformed into an information and demonstration centre open to all.

For more information call Whistler Fire Rescue Services at 604-935-8260 or visit http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/protect/REMSAT/ .

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