New Drones Could Spot Wildfires Earlier, Even Help Snuff Them Out

Thu, 05 May 2022 13:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

And other new technology could detect carbon monoxide emitted just when flames start

Over the last 10 years on average, those four months see about 707,000 acres burned, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Federal and state agencies are hoping high technology - literally - can help put fires out more quickly and save lives.

The U.S. Forest Service is preparing to use two new types of drones: one designed to spot new fires, and another that can set fires around existing wildfires to deprive them of fuel.

In a normal year, the beginning of May would be just the start of what firefighters used to call "Fire season." But that era has passed, according to Jon Heggie, a battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the largest state wildfire control agency in the U.S. "There's no more talk about fire season," Heggie said.

"Now it's always the fire year."

The changing climate is not only driving more total fires, but also more fires that start or grow at night.

"It's easier to start something on fire when they are dry and hot than if they're cold and wet," explained Adam Mahood, a fire ecologist and one of the authors of the study.

Researchers first heard anecdotal evidence from Brazil that fires were burning more often at night, Mahood said.

The study, recently published in the journal Nature, concludes that "Traditional fire monitoring systems rely on ground-based cameras or satellite imaging to see smoke or flames and alert local firefighters, but by the time they detect them it's often too late."

The study notes that some of the most devastating forest fires have recently burned fiercely at night.

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