We’ve heard plenty about drones getting in the way of wildfire crews, but could they possibly be a help not a hindrance?
But crews are now exploring the other side of the equation, kicking off a pilot project today with an Okanagan company lending its skills to the effort.
Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek says they’ve contracted Kamploops-based Humingbird Drones to do a series of trials on how the devices might be of use.
“They’re assisting us right now up in Northeastern B.C., with some of those large fires up in the Peace region, mainly acting in an support capacity, supplying mapping products, imagery, looking for hotspots remaining on the fire, thermal imaging, mapping the perimeter of the fire, things like that.”
Skrepnek says it’s an extension of a trial from last year, and could give teams new capabilities – like flying at night, which their helicopters and aircraft don’t do.
“In terms of thermal imaging, you often have to have someone up in a helicopter usually early in the morning before the ambient temperature has gotten too hot so it’s a lot easier to spot those hot spots. With a UAV, they can get in and do that over the course of the night and then start having the products already in production as our crews get ready to head out onto the line.”
He says drones’ imaging abilities could also be a big help.
“Having a real time photo of the fire that could be printed off is a lot more useful to our folks on the ground than having a six month old satellite image.”
Skrepnek says they’re at the trial stage now, and its too soon to say how much money crew-hours the tools could save.
He adds there are still big questions about how to integrate the devices safely into their regular operations, and there is no set timeline on the trial.
But he says if things go well, UAVs could be a regular fixture in Wildfire B.C.’s arsenal.