by REBECCA WEBB
It won’t be ready in time to help with the thousand-acre wildfire near Klamath Falls, but a drone is being created to help in the battle against wildfires in Oregon.
The Oregon Forestry Department is building what is essentially a remote-operated mini-helicopter to get into small, smoky place that are inaccessible or too dangerous for humans. The $5000 dollar chopper, equipped with video and infrared cameras and GPS, is expected to be ready for its first fire-scouting mission in mid-July.
AP reports Oregon is “ahead of the curve” in using drones for fire emergencies: “Firefighting agencies in Washington and Montana have not gone much beyond looking at the issue. Cal Fire took advantage of a drone operated by the California National Guard on last summer’s massive Rim fire outside Yosemite, but has no plans to get its own.” And, Alaska used one on a fire this year, borrowed from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Ironically, the news of Oregon’s unmanned fire-scouting drone follows by one day a federal announcement that drones would be banned in national parks. An industry publication, FireAviation.com, reports that the ban is temporary – implemented to urge each national park to adopt rules of drone use that address local concerns.
The U.S. National Park Service cited examples of drones disturbing communities: In an instance last September, “an unmanned aircraft flew above evening visitors seated in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Amphitheater,” resulting in audience evacuation. And, in April, visitors at Grand Canyon National Park had gathered for a quiet sunset, when they were “interrupted by a loud unmanned aircraft flying back and forth and eventually crashing in the canyon. Later in the month, volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals.”
Such concerns (and privacy worries) notwithstanding, Oregon Forestry officials cite the ability of drones to fly in zero-visibility conditions and for long hours – tasks not suited to humans.