The Aurora Boreas may be the most spectacular celestial phenomenon ever seen, but when the aurora’s light reaches the ground it can also cause a major fire.
The light can be so bright that it can easily blind pilots who can’t see what’s around them, said Steve Regan, the owner of the Aurora Aviation Services in Toronto.
“The Aurora Borea is the brightest thing in the world and we’re in the middle of a major wildfire, and we don’t know what’s going to happen to the ground or the aircraft.
So what’s the safest way to fly around the auroras?
What’s the best way to get in the air?”
He and his team are using a combination of advanced radar and laser systems to look for the Aurora’s path, tracking it and sending out flares as it passes overhead.
The Aurora is known to produce a bright flash, so Regan and his colleagues can’t just rely on the radar to help them see what is coming down the path.
“We’re actually using the radar as an infrared camera,” he said.
“You’re actually looking down and seeing where the Aurora is coming from, because you can see it coming down from the ground.”
Regan says they are using the Aurora to track a wildfire that has been burning for several days in a remote area of western Ontario.
Regan is working with his partner, Andrew Devereux, to track the Aurora, which is believed to be moving towards a small town about 10 kilometres (6 miles) east of Thunder Bay.
“We’re looking for a fire and they’re trying to fight it from behind,” Devereaux said.
As the Aurora approaches, the two pilots will release flares to get the auroral glow over their aircraft.
“I think the best thing for us to do is to wait until the aurorae have passed by, because we don’st want them to be too close to us,” he added.
In a firefighting emergency, Regan might fly through the flames to get a better look at what is happening.
He said the Aurora can be used to track fires burning in areas that are not well lit.
Regan said that for many firefighters, the Aurora also provides an opportunity to fly with their parachutes in place, which can be useful in the field.
He added that a helicopter pilot who’s flying in a fire in the mountains would be able to use the Aurora as a guide.
As for Regan’s Aurora, the company has already put some of its work on display in the skies over Thunder Bay and Oshawa.
To learn more about what’s happening in the Aurora and how to prepare for the phenomenon, check out this Aurora video: