Could drones help battle wildfires?

Test sites proposed to learn how drones could improve wildfire monitoring, mitigation, and containment

Images taken from space can provide a lot of information about wildfires, but low-level flights by unmanned aircraft could help make firefighting safer and more efficient, some experts believe. This image of the West Fork Fire Complex in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado was taken June 26 from the International Space Station. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory page for more information about the image.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A pair of U.S. Senators wants to get a leg up on wildfires by spurring the use of unmanned surveillance aircraft to make firefighting efforts more efficient.

“Extreme wildfires have become an all too common occurrence in Colorado, leaving families without homes and hundreds of thousands of charred acreage in their paths,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). “We need to employ every tool available to help firefighters in their battles. This bipartisan amendment will help us develop UAS technology and teach us more about how they can strengthen our fights against wildfires more quickly and safely.”

Bennet (D-CO) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) this week introduced an amendment to create two additional test sites for unmanned aerial systems, with a focus on how they could be used for firefighting.

“In the wake of Arizona’s Yarnell Hill fire and the tragic loss of 19 firefighters, we owe it to the families of those who perished and to all who face wildfire threats to better understand how UAS technology can help fight fires and save lives,” said Flake.

“Colorado is ready to work with the FAA in any capacity to complete UAS NAS integration and, as a result, start generating the economic and citizen value these platforms can provide. We are demonstrating our willingness through proposed legislation that is both responsible and supportive of accessing the value of unmanned systems,” said Stan VanderWerf, director of UAS Colorado.

Congress passed legislation more than a year ago directing the Federal Aviation Administratio to begin a process that incorporates UAS technology into the civil aviation system with six test sites around the country. The FAA has announced guidelines for its selection process with specific safeguards designed to ensure the privacy and safety of anyone living near a test site.

The Bennet-Flake amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act directs the FAA to select two additional test sites that would focus in part on wildfire monitoring, mitigation, and containment. It would give emergency management and aviation officials a better idea of how UAS technology can be used to combat the devastating effects of wildfires.

Bennet has advocated for the safe incorporation of UAS technology into Colorado’s robust aerospace industry, working with Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and Governor Hickenlooper to lead a Colorado delegation letter in support of a Colorado FAA test site that prioritized safety and privacy for Colorado residents.


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