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Oregon to Utilize Drones to Assist in Wildfire Surveillance

June 25, 2014; 8:35 AM ET
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Oregon is turning to drones to help fight forest fires.

The state's Department of Forestry this summer will use an unmanned aircraft to scout the fires, flying the drone into smoky airspace that's too dangerous for manned planes.

The remote-controlled, 5-foot-long helicopter, equipped with a GPS locator, infrared cameras and other technology, will cost about $5,000. The drone could provide useful information about how fires are spreading, officials said.

Dollar Lake Wildfire, Oregon in 2011. (Credit: Flickr/Barry O'Neil)

"You are always looking for improved visibility of your fire," said Brian Ballou, a state fire prevention specialist. A drone "just cuts down on the unknowns."

Drones won't replace larger, manned aircraft that drop water on fires and also produce infrared maps. But if experiments like the one in Oregon are successful, unmanned planes could become an important firefighting tool, officials said.

"I think all agencies think we need a little more testing," said Mike Wilkins, a district ranger at the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. But drones have "some potential to keep people safe" (AP/Portland Oregonian, June 22).

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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