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Wildfires are getting worse: Can firefighting drones help combat them?




Fire season in the Northern Hemisphere is well and truly upon us and it’s shaping up to be even worse than 2017.

A week ago, wildfires near Athens, Greece, killed at least 91 people. At the time of writing in the United States, there are at least 16 fires burning in California which have so far killed 8 and destroyed more than 1000 homes and businesses. Firefighting drones are a recent but rapidly developing technology. Are they likely to be a soon become a helpful addition to societies’ firefighting efforts?

With record hot temperatures, high winds and tinder-dry conditions affecting many cities around the globe, the risks of fire igniting, taking hold and ravaging a particular area are extreme. Climate change is one factor contributing to the increasing intensity and duration of wildfires. Even in areas with vast resources and an army of firefighters, the sheer size and scale of some modern infernos can exhaust firefighter’s physically and emotionally and hamper their ability to put fires out.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported that in 2018, wildfires are already responsible for burning close to 4 million acres of land in the United States. That’s 11 percent higher than the average since 2008.

The after-effects of the 2018 California wildfires which have thus far destroyed more than 1000 buildings

Firefighting drones to the rescue?

Many US fire departments are already using drones, as we discussed in this article earlier this year. The DJI Zenmuse XT and Z30 models, as well as the Matrice 210 and Inspire 1 v2.0 are all popular models with fire departments. At this stage, drones are primarily used by fire departments for monitoring purposes – giving crews a birds-eye view of what’s going on and deploying their thermal imaging cameras to identify hot spots or people within buildings.

In the last year, however, some pretty nifty drones have been released that are expressly designed to perform a similar role to firefighters: extinguish flames.  Below we’ve highlighted some of the best UAVs designed to put out fires.

Aerones’ firefighting drone

Aerones’ firefighting drone is featured in the cover image of this story. Designed by a Latvian company, the drones can reach a height of nearly 1000 feet in just six minutes. They can be operated by a single pilot and can reach places that normal firefighters have no chance of getting to. These drones can fly with battery for around 20 minutes but ultimately the company wishes to release tethered drones that will allow them to fly for several hours at a time. One of their models, the ‘Superfast’ drone will be equipped with 28 propellers, and is capable of carrying a weight of slightly less than 450 pounds. As the picture above shows, these drones are packed with technology. For now, they are still in development but the testing thus far shows that this drone has enormous firefighting potential.

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