Are Drones the Future of Firefighting?

When it comes to analyzing dangerous wildfires, could a sensor attached to a drone ever replace a human eye connected to an intellect shaped by experience and intuition?

That’s one of the many questions federal wildland firefighting officials are asking as drones become increasingly popular in warfare and commerce.

The wildfire drone conversation comes on the heels of a national reminder about the human cost of firefighting after one of the deadliest seasons in recent memory. Nineteen firefighters died a year ago Monday at the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. In all last year, 38 firefighters were killed in the line of duty as fire burned 4.1 million acres and more than 1,000 homes.

Drones with infrared capability could help where thick smoke keeps manned helicopters from gathering fire information. They also could keep people out of risky situations, provide real-time information to firefighters on the ground and alert officials when conditions change or the fire jumps the line. … (Read more)