DNR to use unmanned aerial vehicle to monitor wildfires

As unusually hot and dry weather increases wildfire danger across the state, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources has received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to use an unmanned aerial vehicle in monitoring wildfires that pose an urgent threat, the DNR announced today.

“Use of a UAV can help get real-time information to firefighters on the ground,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark in a press release. “Just over the last few days we’ve seen more than a hundred fire starts in Washington. Additional information can provide a safer operating environment for firefighters.”

DNR regularly uses airplanes and helicopters to monitor and control wildfires. Wind and smoke can ground these aircraft. A UAV can fly in conditions where manned aircraft cannot, and relay video information that helps fire suppression efforts.

In 2014, the Washington state legislature granted authority to DNR to use UAVs for the specific purpose of wildland fire monitoring and suppression. Any decision on whether to use a UAV will be made in real time and depend on emergency conditions around a particular wildfire.

If a UAV is warranted, the agency will use a “ScanEagle,” which is built by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing. The aircraft is about four feet long, has a 10-foot wingspan, weighs about 40 pounds and is equipped with cameras.

Despite the statewide burn ban on DNR-protected lands, weather conditions indicate a tough fire season ahead.

“At a time when resources are stretched, using a UAV can save money and help us accomplish our mission,” Goldmark said. “I appreciate the leadership of the legislature, and especially the vision of State Senator Jim Hargrove, in helping us apply this technology to fighting fires, protecting communities and preserving habitat.”

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