FIREWATCH: Fighting fire with 'ping pong balls'

Firefighters have many different ways to fight wildfires in our region. It might surprise many people that one of their most important tools can fit in the palm of your hand.

Posted: Jul 11, 2019 6:46 PM

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Firefighters have many different ways to fight wildfires in our region. It might surprise many people that one of their most important tools can fit in the palm of your hand. 

The use of incendiary ping pong balls has evolved since it started in the 1980's in the U.S.

Matthew Schutty, Supervisory Forestry Technician for the Siskiyou Rappell Crew, said the balls are a great tool to ignite areas on the ground that are harder for people to get to.

The ball itself is filled with potassium permanganate and is injected with antifreeze, which causes a reaction that lights the ball on fire within about 45 seconds. 

The balls are used primarily for prescribed burns, but they are also used for fire suppression. Crews drop them from helicopters or drones to create back burns, which helps control the fire. 

Schutty said the balls are often dropped in places that hand crews cannot get to, which is a major safety benefit for the men and women on the ground. However, there is a trade-off.

The mission is riskier than a regular flight.

"You're spending a lot of time 50 to 100 feet right above the trees and if something goes wrong, the results are generally catastrophic," Schutty said. 

While the tool has been used to fight fires for nearly 30 years, the technology has evolved a lot these past few years, allowing the balls to be dropped from drones. 

Last year, crews used the new development on the Klondike and Taylor Creek Fires. 

Schutty said the drone technology may be relatively new, but it's taking off quickly.

"I think it'll be one of the areas where drones actually take away some of the helicopter work," Schutty said. 

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 206299

Reported Deaths: 2750
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah40280614
Washington26740248
Marion23370323
Clackamas18872235
Lane13862162
Jackson11518146
Deschutes998682
Umatilla859287
Linn557280
Klamath477478
Yamhill477379
Polk397755
Douglas385881
Malheur361163
Josephine357572
Benton325422
Jefferson236339
Coos216637
Columbia190829
Union149124
Wasco143830
Lincoln142721
Crook128923
Hood River121933
Morrow115316
Clatsop10449
Baker100915
Curry70111
Tillamook6604
Grant5487
Lake4678
Harney4309
Wallowa1945
Gilliam761
Sherman671
Wheeler351
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3806465

Reported Deaths: 63274
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles124703324444
Riverside3015434625
San Bernardino2991864811
San Diego2815313771
Orange2729225109
Santa Clara1200322187
Kern1107341402
Sacramento1075601730
Fresno1028671722
Alameda895621272
Ventura816091030
San Joaquin746291438
Contra Costa70478810
Stanislaus633871069
Tulare49799849
Monterey43831421
San Mateo42615581
San Francisco37243556
Santa Barbara34593455
Solano33673266
Merced32284477
Sonoma30825323
Imperial28801741
Placer23477299
Kings23185247
San Luis Obispo21421261
Madera16618245
Santa Cruz16232208
Marin14185229
Yolo14141212
Butte12644194
Shasta12630233
El Dorado10363116
Napa1001480
Sutter9650113
Yuba646451
San Benito610963
Lassen578424
Tehama572763
Nevada490375
Humboldt446248
Mendocino430650
Tuolumne420771
Amador373147
Lake356345
Glenn243027
Siskiyou239337
Colusa228418
Calaveras220156
Del Norte14548
Inyo143438
Mono12954
Plumas7366
Modoc5565
Mariposa4657
Trinity4225
Sierra1130
Alpine890
Unassigned400
Medford
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 61°
Brookings
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 75°
Crater Lake
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 61°
Grants Pass
Partly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 61°
Klamath Falls
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 59°
Excessive Heat Warning for Father's Day
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events