Fast and furious firefighting drones

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Photo Credit to Matthew Lejune

California fires have spread to reach record highs in 2018, and to combat them firefighters are relying on drones more than ever before.

The Condition of California Fires

When compared to 2017, the current 2018 California fires have more than doubled in acreage burned and many are still raging. The Mendocino Complex Fire has grown to be the largest inferno in California’s recorded history, with over 400,000 acres burned and 290 structures destroyed.

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These fires are not a passing occurrence either. California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment was recently published this August, and the study foretells worsening conditions throughout the century. According to the assessment, the frequency and intensity of California fires will continue to grow, with 77% of additional land expected to burn year after year.

Firefighting Drones – Adapting to the Heat

In recent years drones have become increasingly popular in both private and professional use, and statistics in the drone industry show that those numbers will only continue to expand.

To date, over 900 US public safety departments in the United States have already implemented drone technology as part of their operations. This marks an estimated 82 percent increase from 2017 in US agencies that use drones.

Fire departments such as the Menlo Park Fire District in California, which is especially notable for its wide use and early application of drone technology in 2014, have set up dedicated drone command centers to aid in firefighting operations.

These firefighting drones are used to complete a variety of invaluable and otherwise impossible tasks, such as navigating tight and low areas that are inaccessible to helicopters while mapping land and fire routes, rapidly identifying safety threats to reduce risk to on-ground firefighting teams, and even delivering light-weight equipment when required.

While fully operational drone command centers like that of Menlo Park are still relatively uncommon in fire departments, as conditions worsen and the drone industry continues to boom, we can expect this airborne firefighting technology to become more widespread and standardized.

A Look Inside Firefighting Drones

Chinese-based drone manufacturer DJI supplies many of the drone models that firefighters are using, with departments like Menlo Park flying everything from models of the DJI Matrice series (which is capable of carrying and delivering up to 10lbs of equipment) to the DJI Phantom 4 (the most frequently flown drone model in the US).

Many of these unmanned drones also employ an impressive combination of remote sensors and video recording systems to gather data on fire conditions. These include models bearing cameras that can zoom up to 180x, utilize thermal imaging to highlight hot objects and penetrate smoke, or use Lidar technology to generate 3D maps with laser pulses.

Brought together in the field, these drone systems have been warning firefighters of changing conditions, helping predict the spread of fire, and actively informing what firefighting strategies are most effective.

What Do You Think?

Drone technology has taken off (pun intended). As more state and federal departments begin to accept and implement the use of drones to supplement their operations, we’re sure to see that technology grow and adapt to better cater to those applied fields.

What do you think about using drones to fight fires? Or their continual spread into other industries and professions? Leave a comment below, we would be pleased to hear what you have to say.