To say that Washington State is experiencing somewhat of a drought would be a gross understatement. In 2015, the state, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, had its driest spring for over 100 years. These conditions have not only caused the usually dense snowpack to melt off four months earlier than usual, but also dried out a large quantity of dead trees that provide fuel for wildfires
The ‘Paradise fire’ currently raging within the Olympic National Park is just one devastating product of this year’s adverse weather. Believed to have been started by lightening in June, the wildfire has grown more volatile as it feeds on dead trees and ‘forest duff’ (debris on the forest floor composed of years of accumulated dead leaves) and has grown to 2,796 acres.
Whilst this fire is looking likely to be contained, there are many other wildfires in the region that still pose a significant threat to people homes and the environment. For this reason, the U.S. Department of the Interior has now chosen to trial a more advanced way to monitor wildfires within Olympic National Park.
UAVs & Infrared
UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or ‘drones’ have long been used by military forces to provide tactical reconnaissance and, more notoriously, a discreet ground attack capability. In more recent times they have, however, seen increasing use in the civilian sector, and now there is reason to believe that they could be utilised by emergency services to help monitor wildfires.
By combining UAVs with infrared cameras, officials may more accurately monitor wildfires and then take action. This is possible because infrared cameras work by picking up the infrared radiation (heat) emitted from an area or object. From detecting even the slightest temperature variation, an infrared camera then composes a picture that enables the user to distinguish between areas of low and high heat within blazes.
Fighting Wildfire with Infrared
The U.S. Department of the Interior recently used the infrared equipped ScanEagle UAV made by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing, to great success in Olympic National Park. Via a live feed received from the ScanEagle, operators were able to detect the perimeter of the Paradise fire and even direct helicopter bucket drops to the most intense heat sources.
To combat wildfires requires innovative use of existing technology. With their ability to stay airborne for long periods whilst providing valuable information to ground teams, it is certain that UAVs armed with infrared cameras will grow to be increasingly crucial tools in the fight against devastating blazes.