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Project Will Study How Drones Can Improve Wildfire Management

Kevin Clifford / KC Photography Reno

Firefighters with drone that could be used to help manage wildfires.

Kevin Clifford / KC Photography Reno

Hobby drones have repeatedly hindered firefighting efforts this year. But the Desert Research Institute is launching a project to see how unmanned aircraft systems might improve wildfire management and safety.

DRI researcher Adam Watts says people who illegally fly hobby drones over wildfires are not only putting lives at risk, but giving drones a bad reputation.

“When that happens, the public and the firefighting community sees this technology as being a danger rather than a benefit," says Watts.

He says unmanned aircraft systems can be used safely by wildfire managers and have multiple benefits.

“You may be able to observe sudden shifts in the weather or the wind or sudden extreme fire behavior that represent a danger," says Watts. "If you catch those early, you might be able to move your people or equipment where they’re needed or away from danger.”

Watts says infrared cameras attached to drones could track fires at night. He says drones might sample smoke concentrations to give scientists a better understanding of downwind effects.

DRI is cooperating with NASA and Drone America, a Nevada drone manufacturer in the research.

California lawmakers have also scheduled a hearing this week to examine the risks and benefits of drone use in fires.