Using Drones for Hot Spotting and Other Support Applications Fighting Wildfires in Canada

The worst wildfire year in the history of the country was deemed to be 2023 by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in June. To put it into perspective, the agency reports that as of August 8, over 13.2 million hectares of land have burned nationwide, nearly twice the previous high of over 7.1 million hectares in 1995, with the CIFFC providing statistics going back to 1983. The fires have caused air quality problems not only in Canada but also in the northeastern United States, with smoke even traveling across the Atlantic and into Europe. In addition to the physical danger and displacement that come with any wildfire.

Using Drones for Hot Spotting and Other Support Applications Fighting Wildfires in Canada

Using Drones for Hot Spotting and Other Support Applications Fighting Wildfires in Canada

The effects of climate change will most likely result in worse-than-average wildfire seasons more frequently than not, though fortunately not on an annual basis. The good news is that technology has advanced and may result in new capabilities to assist lessen the effects of the flames, if there can be any good news in the midst of these catastrophes. We’ve lately discussed some of the relatively new tools that can be utilized for these crucial duties. One of those tools is the UAV.

The effects of climate change will most likely result in worse-than-average wildfire seasons more frequently than not, though fortunately not on an annual basis. The good news is that technology has advanced and may result in new capabilities to assist lessen the effects of the flames, if there can be any good news in the midst of these catastrophes. Here at Commercial UAV News, we’ve lately discussed some of the relatively new tools that can be utilized for these crucial duties. One of those tools is the UAV.

Recently, Dean Attridge, VP of Solutions Engineering for Volatus, and Walter Weselowski, Team Lead, Special Flight Ops for Volatus, spoke with Commercial UAV News about how UAVs are used to assist in fighting wildfires in Canada, potential differences between Canada and the U.S., and what the future of these missions might entail.

Using UAVs for hotspotting

Currently, UAVs support firefighting operations mostly through hot spotting, which involves utilizing thermal scanners to look for spots that are still burning along a fire line. “Traditionally, they’ll send a helicopter or an aircraft with a thermal scanner to try and go and find these hotspots that are left on the fire lines, so they can put them out and they’re not worried about the fire picking up and taking off on them again,” Weselowski told Commercial UAV News. It basically goes from “being held” to “under control.”

Now, part of this work is being done by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are equipped with payload thermal scanners, which, according to Weselowski, are “basically the same as any handheld, or what you’d find in any commercial, civilian-grade infrared camera that’s on an aircraft.” Potentially hazardous hotspots can be seen by these payloads that the naked eye would not be able to notice.

“They’re not necessarily searching for things that are blazing in the open where everyone can see them because anyone may stroll by and see it. They’re searching for much less dangerous things, like hotspots blazing underground or inside tree roots. Peat moss has been burning for 14, or perhaps 15 feet beneath the surface, but you can’t see it. Surface-level indication is absent, but when viewed via a thermal camera, it glows like a Christmas tree.

These kinds of “hidden” hotspots can cause a fire to flare up in an area that was previously believed to be contained, therefore our activity is essential to keeping these fires under control. A hotspot inside a tree, for instance, can now be refueled and picked back up if the tree eventually falls down after the firemen and their equipment have moved on to other sites. Weselowski and his colleagues carry out these kinds of activities to assist make sure that these flames are, to the greatest extent feasible, truly contained before leaving the region.

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