Wildfires pose major risks to people and towns, especially in the western areas of the U.S. Forest managers use watch towers and helicopters to spot new blazes and to track active ones, but these are time-consuming, expensive and exhausting tasks.
Launch a drone to keep an eye on the forests, though, and suddenly this job becomes much easier. In one case, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection launched a Predator drone, courtesy of the state's National Guard unit. The Predator, which is roughly the size of a Cessna, was loaded with cameras and infrared imaging units to help it track the infamous Rim Fire, which burned through forests around Yosemite National Park.
In addition to monitoring fires and looking for new ones, drones can help firefighters strategize. They can track the direction of a blaze and keep tabs on weather conditions that push the flames in one direction or another, and alert firefighters to unsafe conditions. They can even drop flame retardant to douse fires that threaten to burn out of control.
Hovering drones can also amplify cell signals so that firefighters can stay in touch with headquarters. This is a huge benefit because so many forest fires happen in locations where cell service is weak or non-existent. Forget Smokey the Bear. Drones are the forest firefighters of the very near future.