In June and July 2011, a fire started by a tree falling on a power line burned 156,593 acres in New Mexico, threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and required 1,508 personnel to finally put it out in early August. The Las Conchas Fire destroyed 112 residences and 49 outbuildings and was the largest wildfire in New Mexico history, surpassing even the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 in total acres burned.
The Las Conchas Fire also threatened a major natural gas pipeline that runs through the Jemez Mountains. The New Mexico Gas Company (NMGC) had a portion of this pipeline burnt during the Cerro Grande Fire and was monitoring it from outside the fire's danger zone.
"Because it was within the fire boundary, we couldn't see our pipelines, so we needed another way to track it," said Curtis Winner, manager of Land Services at NMGC.
The NMGC has half-a-million customers throughout the state, 500,000 physical meters, 9,895 miles of distribution pipeline, and 1,655 miles of transmission pipeline. Using ArcGIS Server, ArcReader for field personnel, and several other real-time mapping software products, the NMGC GIS department creates 50 standard map products that can all change for necessity.
Its Leak Survey Tool allows personnel to digitize an area that was surveyed and it counts the number of services, miles, and mains by material type within the area. The number of miles of main and numbers of services surveyed in a particular day, week, or project are reported back in the ArcGIS Server database. So, when the Las Conchas Fire threatened its pipelines, an ArcGIS Server mash-up allowed the NMGC to track the fire in real-time just like its leak surveys.
"The U.S. Forest Service was flying thermal imagery every night and updating a GeoMAC Web mapping service with details of the extent of the fire," Winner said. "Because they have the same Esri technology, we were able to pull the forest service data in and mash it on top of their transmission line mapping caches in our ArcGIS system map."
The resulting product was a real-time updated "Firewatch" website that all personnel and customers could use to track the progression of the fire and how it would affect the pipelines in their neighborhoods. When the fire crossed over pipelines, Winner and the other NMGC personnel could monitor any changes in pressure and tell if the lines were okay because there were no major spikes.
"It was a good indicator that they would be alright," Winner said. "If they were burnt over (past the pipeline) and fire didn't reach that far underground, there was no real threat any longer."
Running ArcGIS Server, Winner and his team had created mash-ups for other, smaller wildfires, so once they received the information from the U.S. Forest Service it was rather easy to create the Las Conchas mash-up.
Executives and other stakeholders were able to see the rapid growth of the fire – 40,000 acres in six hours – from the Firewatch site and it gave them a feel for conditions on the ground. There was no disruption to the NMGC's services throughout the month-long ordeal of the containment and final extinguishment of the Las Conchas Fire.
Check Esri's Wildfires map at www.esri.com/services/disaster-response/wildlandfire/latest-news-map.html for continuous updates of U.S. wildfire locations, perimeters, fire potential areas, global burn areas, and precipitation.