Page last updated at 06:20 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 07:20 UK

Gadgets to help tackle wild fires

The Argo Cat
The Argo Cat is also used by the armed forces

An eight-wheeled vehicle and a mini-helicopter will help south Wales firefighters tackle remote grass fires.

The Argo Cat, which is being used in trials by the service, is designed to negotiate inaccessible mountainous areas and can "swim" in deep water.

The microdrone is a remotely controlled helicopter which acts as an "eye in the sky" for fire crews.

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said they hoped the equipment would help avert the problems of last spring.

The service received 5,500 calls in just 10 days in April 2007, and crews across Wales were called out to more than 500 fires over one bank holiday period.

The Rhondda Cynon Taf area was one of the worst hit, with more than half the total number of deliberately-set grass and mountain fires in south Wales.

The equipment is part of the service's new Wildfire project, a multi-pronged approach to the way firefighters tackle grass, forestry and mountain fires.

The microdrone with Peter Howard-Jones and Huw Jakeway
The microdrone could be used to identify the people lighting the fires

Andrew Thomas, who is leading the Wildlife project, said they also hoped education schemes targeting the youngsters who start the fires, training in how to tackle the blazes tactically and closer partnerships with the police would also help the service deal with wild fires.

The Argo Cat is being used on trial over the Whitsun Bank Holiday and school half-term by the service because these periods are notorious for the noticeable rise in the number of wild fires, said Mr Thomas.

The vehicle, which is used extensively by the armed forces, can transfer fire crews and equipment directly to the blaze, whereas before they had to reach them on foot, meaning they were exhausted before they even started tackling the fire.

"Wild fires are extremely unpredictable and can spiral out of control within minutes," said Mr Thomas.

"Every time our firefighters are called out to a grass or mountain fire, not only does it cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds, but it also means that firefighters could be diverted from attending a real emergency - someone trapped in a house fire or a crashed car. This could have a potential life risk."

The mini-helicopter, which is owned by the fire service, could also help fire crews identify the individuals who are lighting the fires.

"It is capable of transmitting good quality images to a control room or a vehicle and also it can hover above the fires and identify what is in the line of the fire, like a property," said Mr Thomas.

Arson fears over mountain blaze
14 Feb 08 |  North West Wales
Hillside fire 'may be deliberate'
18 Jun 07 |  Mid Wales

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