2020 is the worst year so far considering wildfires. The unprecedented and raging wildfires over California and much of the west is devastating. It is heartbreaking to see that millions of acres of land are burnt in mere weeks.
Firefighters are the most at risk as they have the job to put these fires out. They endanger themselves by going into the fire, risking their lives for quenching it.
This is when we need new innovations to come forward. At this time of a natural disaster, the firefighters need all the help they can get. We see Firefighter drones and even changed passenger jets to aid the firefighters during this calamity.
Drones are ingenious pieces of technology. They have a wide area of application. Their small structure and high manoeuvrability make them perfect to reach unknown areas. Unlike passenger and fighter aircraft, drones can access areas much smaller and remote. The added advantage that they are remote controlled makes them much safer.
This is mainly why military organizations from around the world use them in special operations. They are everywhere, starting from Killer Drones of the US to China’s attack drones. Drones have the added advantage of not needing a human pilot. There is no need for the physical presence of a human pilot. He/she can pilot the drone via remote control from a safer place. This reduces the risk of their lives and also overall human casualties in warfare.
But the recent wildfires in California are becoming a proving ground for yet another use-case of drones.
The Firefighter Drones
Drones are becoming the greatest innovation this year in firefighting technology. Their high manoeuvrability and small size make them very important tools in firefighting.
Over 30 drone pilots flying over two dozen firefighter drones are fighting the brutal wildfires in Oregon, California, Colorado, and elsewhere. Last year, the Federal Wildfire Management Technology Act urged the use of more drones to fight the fires. This year, it’s more than twice the number we saw last year.
“We’re getting a significant increase in requests this year. We don’t have the pilots or aircraft to meet the needs now.”- Joe Suarez, Drone Specialist, National Park Service, and superintendent of the Arrowhead Hot Shot fire crew, California.
In August, Suarez was flying the M-600 drone above the Woodward Fires. It was a 6-rotor drone with thermal imaging mapping the fire spread across 5000 acres. The fog and smoke were too thick for human-piloted aircraft.
Firefighter Dragon Eggs
Simon Weibel is another firefighter who works for a company called “Drone Amplified“. He joined Suarez to fight the raging fires. They together fit the drones with funnel-shaped undercarriage devices. Each carriage could drop 450 ping-pong ball-sized incendiary devices in under four minutes. These balls are called Dragon Eggs and contain potassium permanganate. Upon release, they get a pin-injection of anti-freeze. The combined reaction ignites the balls when they hit the ground. This can start counter fires so that there is no area left for the advancing fire to catch on.
“A bonus is you can do nighttime ops and work in smoky conditions because if a drone crashes, no one dies.”- Simon Weibel.
The drones accessed areas that were too thick or too steep for human personnel. The Dragon Eggs could create a backfire covering an area 300 to 400 feet wider. This meant it was a safer and much quicker process. They also helped in creating a big enough barrier against the spreading wildfire.
Future Firefighter Army
Using firefighter drones increased rapidly this year. Considering this significant increase in their adaptation, we may see armies of them. But some experienced firefighters say that it is ground personnel that put out the fires. We may see a time when drones and men together quench raging wildfires. We may develop essential equipment and safer methods for firefighters to join the drones in stopping future calamities.
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