Drones being tested to help fight fires

Photo by Pixabay

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. —  British Columbia’s Chief Wildfire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek says drones are again being used in wildfire zones in the province, including this one.

But this time, it’s to assist and not hinder firefighting crews.

The recent public perception of drones and wildfires is that they’re a dangerous mix. Drones got a bad reputation last summer,  after being flown into restricted airspace and grounding wildfire helicopters on at least two occasions.

However, an Okanagan company has kicked off a pilot project this week that could see drones go to previously inaccessible places and ultimately enhance the ability of firefighters to do their job.

The pilot project is actually an extension of a trial from last year. With crews hoping to learn how the tools could help shave dollars and man-hours out of the annual wildfire fight.

B.C. endured a major wildfire season last year, and as reported earlier the estimated province-wide firefighting cost was $290 million. More than 1,800 fires burned through more than 280,000 hectares.

Given the early start this year, particularly in this region, there’s concern those numbers could go up.

There’s also concern that while lightning accounted for over two thirds of the fires in 2015, all but about half a dozen of the 166 reported in the first 25 days of the season this year were human caused.

As for drone use, Skrepnek adds, because they’re still at the trial stage, it’s too soon to say how much money — or man power — the drones might save, but it’s not a stretch to envision UAVs becoming a regular fixture in Wildfire B.C.’s arsenal.

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