OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Federal Aviation Administration has given Washington state authorization to use an unmanned drone to monitor wildfires that pose an urgent threat.
Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said Tuesday that the additional "real-time information" will make things safer for firefighters.
“Just over the last few days we’ve seen more than a hundred fire starts in Washington,” Goldmark said in a released statement. “Additional information can provide a safer operating environment for firefighters.”
DNR regularly uses airplanes and helicopters to monitor and control wildfires, but wind and smoke can ground these types of aircraft. A drone can fly in conditions where manned aircraft can’t and can relay important video and information.
The state Legislature earlier this year gave the state DNR authority to use such drones for wildland fire monitoring and suppression.
Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Janet Pearce says any decision on whether to use a drone will depend on emergency conditions around a particular wildfire. She says if such use is warranted, her agency will use a 4-foot-long "ScanEagle," which is built by Boeing subsidiary Insitu. The device has a 10-foot wingspan and carries cameras.
The ScanEagle is used widely by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and was on standby to help workers in the Oso landslide zone. Fire crews in Australia recently used the ScanEagle drone to get night infrared video of wildfires burning at the Wollemi National Park near Sydney.
Related: Boeing drones on standby to help rescue workers
Hot, dry weather has increased wildfire danger across Washington. A state of emergency has been declared in 20 Eastern Washington counties as new and existing wildfires threaten several hundred homes, as well as businesses, infrastructure and natural resources.