‘Every wildfire starts small’: Network of drones to help crews spot, put out fires

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Fire season is starting earlier and earlier, and many fear another big fire season that could break more records.

Fire crews are using drones to help stop this cycle of continued mega-fires.

A fire detecting drone spots the smoke, and another drone lifts off, quickly finds the fire and drops chemicals into the flames, putting them out.

It’s a successful test.

But this fire is small, right?

“Every wildfire starts small. If you could only get there fast enough, you have a shot at solving the problem,” explained Maxwell Brodie.

Brodie is one of the men behind the Rain System, a network of drones that can spot fires when they are small and put them out or dramatically slow them down until the firefighters can arrive.

Brodie told FOX40 multiple drones can respond to the same fire at once.

“There is a network of these drones throughout a region that all respond to an ignition,” he said.

It’s not a traditional fire fighting tool, but many believe it’s past time to think outside the box.

“In the last five years, we’ve seen records set and broken in less than 12 months,” said Todd McNeal, the Dixon Fire Department chief.

McNeal has almost 30 years of fire fighting under his belt.

“We need new tools,” he said. “We need to embrace whatever technology is out here.”

McNeal told FOX40 he likes the Rain System because it’s adaptable to any region, any fuel type and any terrain.

For example, Brodie can enter the numbers for Sacramento, square miles, fuel type, topography and more.

“I estimate, or rather the software estimates, that there would be around 16 drones to contain any ignition within approximately 8 minutes,” Brodie said.

In the foothills or the Sierra, that equation would be different. Some areas will need more drones, others less.

“Every fire engine isn’t the same. We specialize the equipment to the job at hand. The aircraft is the same,” McNeal said.

Even the type of fire suppression agent the drone would carry could be different.

“We are moving toward an ultra high-pressure liquid solution retardant. Currently, it’s a heat-activated dry chemical,” Brodie said.

It’s important to note, neither McNeal nor Brodie think drones could replace firefighters on the fire lines, but they just might be able to help them before they get to the fire line.

“Any ignition is never more than a few minutes away,” Brodie said.

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