Eye in the Sky: The Changing Landscape of Wildfire Management
Mississippi has recently been under the siege of wildfires, with over 500 blazes reported in just the past month, according to the WAPT News. As the flames continue to consume land, an unexpected ally emerges in the fight: drones.
Since August 1, a staggering 517 wildfires have ravaged Mississippi, primarily targeting its coastal regions. These ferocious fires have consumed more than 9,000 acres, prompting burn bans in 40 counties. To tackle this escalating situation, the U.S. Forest Service has deployed drones in about twelve of these instances, marking a significant shift in wildfire management.
Jacob Schuler, the leader of the drone unit, paints a clear picture of their importance: “Once we get on the scene of the fire, we launch. We get up in the air, and we can provide eyes in the sky for the command staff, for the resources on the ground, so we basically can see what the fire is doing at all times.”
The use of drones not only offers an advantage in surveillance but also safety. Aviation mishaps while combating fires are far from rare.
As U.S. Forest Service District Field Management Officer William Hudson aptly put it, “If the drone crashes, it's an expensive piece of equipment, but you ain't gotta worry about life.”
These drones are armed with more than just cameras. Two of them possess infrared capabilities, allowing them to detect wind direction and ensure crew safety.
Schuler elaborates, “If there's a thick column of smoke that we cannot see through, with that infrared camera, we can punch through that smoke column… We can fly at night with the thermal camera.”
Moreover, drones are also economically efficient. Not only do they play a pivotal role in combating natural fires, but the Forest Service also utilizes them for controlled burns throughout Mississippi. Remarkably, using drones cuts down costs by a whopping 80% compared to manned aviation.
As wildfires continue to pose a significant threat, drones are proving to be an invaluable tool in the fight, ensuring safety, efficiency, and a clear perspective in these challenging times.
Photos courtesy of WAPT16 ABC / US Forest Service
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