From pest to pal: FAA praises drones that help firefighters battle wildfires

    Amid the spate of giant blazes that burned over 6 million acres of land in the US this year alone, the flight of private UAVs in emergency zones have been repeatedly blamed for hampering efforts to extinguish the flames. Now the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is also praising the ways drones have become a vital tool for firefighters battling wildfires.

    The FAA outlined the drones-for-good contributions of authorized craft operating around wildfires in a pair of related releases. The first was the most recent of its regular The Air Up There podcasts titled “Drones Revolutionize Wildland Firefighting.” The second was an article partially drawn from that by the FAA’s Chris Troxell. Together, they describe how the official view of UAV operating around blazes went from trepidation and expectations of trouble, to increasing enthusiasm for using the craft to fight – and even prevent – fires in open areas.

    When it first began, the swiftly expanded use of UAV among private individuals was viewed by authorities as an emergency scenario problem waiting to happen. Back then – as indeed this year – the FAA watched as enthusiasts defied warnings and flew their drones around wildfires, creating hazards for or interference with helicopters and other aerial vehicles seeking to assist firefighters on the ground. It wasn’t until 2015 that the US Forest Service began experimenting with the craft on its only and rapidly established an in-house UAV program to exploit their considerable contributions.


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