Drones Fueling the Flames


While you can debate the merits of 2002’s Spider Man movie, it did offer one of the more memorable lines when Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben reminds him that “with great power comes great responsibility.” The same warning could accompany a number of new technologies currently in use and in constant development – like drones.

These unmanned aerial wonders have applications ranging from military to search and rescue, sparing humans from potentially dangerous situations. Unfortunately, their power-to-responsibility ratio was called into question earlier this month after a drone crashed in an exceptionally dry area of Arizona, and started a wildfire about 15 miles north of Flagstaff. Although it was contained within a day thanks to the efforts of 30 firefighters, the fire burned more than 200 acres of forest.

Fortunately, no one was hurt and the pilot has been identified. As this appears to be the first reported incident of a consumer drone causing a wildfire, the punishment is still being debated. However, this is not the first time drones have raised the ire of firefighters. In their efforts to get a better look at the wildfires in California late last year, drones were interfering with aircraft sent to help fight the blaze.

The only deterrents currently in place are “significant” FAA fines and seizure of the aircraft for disrupting emergency response efforts. A better response might be forcing such violators to follow the steps of our neighbors to the north.

In Canada, drones are used to fly over areas once the fire is out to assess damage and help determine how the fire started. The drones, equipped with HD cameras, infrared technology, and ultraviolet lighting gather images that are later stitched together as part of a “fire mapping” process. The imagery is analyzed and has been successful in identifying the origin of a fire to within 30 feet.

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