Wildland firefighters triangulate to locate remote smoke plumes

Single tree lightning strikes (and other smaller sources of intermittent or light smoke plume) can be hard to locate, especially when in remote locations. Crews can hike past a fire perhaps multiple times, even when close to a smoke source, when vision is obscured by trees & terrain. This costs time and effort.

Triangulation (using two or more sightings with locations & compass bearings – preferably well separated – to estimate the target location) can be helpful to give a destination to hike to, and then search from. Plot the point before setting off. Having a predetermined destination allows use of a GPS to navigate to a the destination as a waypoint. Removing unnecessary hiking helps reduce wear and tear on the crew, and hence reduces risks while in the mountains. Replace smoke chasing with smoke finding.

Traditionally, wildland crews have triangulate using a paper map, with compass, pencil, straight edge and a calculation process. This process can be hard to remember, especially when not performed regularly. Field Triangulate performs these calculations and provides a destination for the firefighters.

Triangulate to a remote smoke sighting…

  • Find a first location with line of sight to the smoke. Take a latitude / longitude.
  • Use a handheld compass to determine the bearing to the smoke. (Note: for accuracy don’t trust iOS device compasses, and don’t use compasses inside a vehicle.)
  • Have another crew or unit take a second latitude / longitude and bearing. (The closer to 90º between the readings the more accurate.)
  • Add each of these readings to the Triangulation app. (Each will be provided a separate pin and line color.)
  • When available a black pin will be placed at the triangulated location and the triangulated latitude / longitude will be displayed up top.
  • Tap the triangulated location to be able to view and share that location via messaging, or relay over a radio to other fire crews.

For more on how to triangulate see these steps in the triangulation process.

Caution: Field Triangulate will calculate a target destination, but does NOT suggest a route to that location, or suggest if it is safe to proceed to that location. Plan any trek or route according to fire conditions, terrain and local knowledge. Always maintain situational awareness.

Field Triangulate is available for iPhone and iPad.

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