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B.C. tested drones as firefighting aids this season | Canadian Insurance
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B.C. tested drones as firefighting aids this season

Cost of the trial hasn't been tallied

This summer, a few drones helped battle B.C. wildfires “to see how they could integrate” into current firefighting techniques, said chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.

The drones flew in areas where flames had already been doused, mapping fires and using thermal imaging to look for hotspots that could flare again.

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Typically, helicopters use thermal scanning devices to find hotspots or people search the forest floor on their hands and knees, Skrepnek said.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is making the process of putting (fires) out more efficient,” said Robert Atwood, co-founder of Hummingbird Drones in Kamloops, B.C.

Three of the company’s machines were used in the test, each equipped with infrared scanning technology. They flew mostly at night, at times soaring almost 500 metres in the air.

The team would then compile the data and get it to fire crews by the next morning.

In order to fly over the blazes, Atwood and his team needed to get a special flight-operation certificate from Transportation Canada that allowed them into the restricted airspace.

Not having the proper training and permits can cause big problems, Atwood said.

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“When you have people who take what is essentially a tool and fly it without regard for human life and property, it can not only be damaging to those trying to fight the wildfire, but incredibly damaging to a program that’s trying to take on new technology as well.”

During the test project, the drones were communicating and co-ordinating with fire crews, Skrepnek said.

“It is two very different issues involving the same type of aircraft. But it is, I think, just an opportunity to remind people again that unsanctioned use in and around fires is illegal,” Skrepnek said.

No decision has been made on whether drones will become a regular part of the province’s firefighting arsenal, but Skrepnek said the experience was positive.

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Cost of the trial hasn’t been tallied.

“But certainly, if you do look at using this product compared to the hourly cost of flying a helicopter, it would certainly be a fraction of the cost,” Skrepnek said.