Colorado developing drone system to enhance situational awareness

The state of Colorado is working on a system that would use drones to provide live video of wildfires to wildland firefighters’ cell phones. The Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting is beta testing a DVI Mavic drone that would push the real time video to firefighters using software developed by the military, Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK).

The program has the capability of displaying data from tracking devices carried by soldiers, or firefighters, and identifying their location on a map, which in this case could also show the fire in real time.

If they are successful in developing and implementing a system that can provide to fire managers real time information about the location of a wildfire AND firefighting resources, it would achieve what we call the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighter Safety — knowing those two elements of information.

The DJI Mavic can only stay in the air for 20 to 30 minutes before having to return to base to replace the battery. So this beta test is probably only a proof of concept attempt, perhaps leading to a more robust drone, rotor or fixed wing, that could stay in the air for a much longer period of time.

Colorado's Pilatus PC12 N327F
“http://wildfiretoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/PilatusPC12.jpg”> One of the two State of Colorado’s Pilatus PC12’s, was photographed in March of 2016 in Sacramento.[/captio
Colorado already has the ability to transmit near real time imagery of fires from their two MultiMission Aircraft, Pilatus PC12’s. They are integrated with the Colorado Wildfire Information System, a geospatial database that displays incident images and details to local fire managers through a web based application.

Drone crash starts fire in Oregon

Above: The burned drone. Photo by Cameron Austin-Connolly

(Originally published at 5:10 p.m. PDT July 11, 2018)

A small drone started a vegetation fire when it crashed near Springfield, Oregon this week. On July 10 Cameron Austin-Connolly was flying his drone over a field when a large unleashed dog left its owner, ran and jumped on him. The impact knocked the controller out of his hands and the drone immediately went out of control and crashed. As you can see in the video (that Mr. Austin-Connolly gave us permission to use) within about three seconds the still operating camera recorded flames.

You can also see two dogs running at Mr. Austin-Connolly.

He wrote on his Facebook page:

My drone crashes and when I go to look for it I saw smoke and flames so I called 911. Springfield FD quickly showed up and put out the flames. They even returned my drone and gopro. The Fire Marshall said that was their first drone fire.

In case you’re wondering about the reaction of the dogs’ owner, Mr. Austin-Connolly said he just kept walking and didn’t say anything.

Mr. Austin-Connolly told us, “it is a hand built first person view drone, or FPV done. Some people also call them racing drones since they are fast.”

He said it was using a lithium polymer, or “lipo”, battery.

Most small consumer-sized drones use lithium ion batteries, while racing drones generally operate with lithium polymer batteries.

The battery that was in the drone. The label says: “Infinity, 1300 MAH, race spec”. Photo by Cameron Austin-Connolly

In March we wrote about the crash of a drone that started a 335-acre fire on the Coconino National Forest in Northern Arizona. Few details about that drone were available, except that it was about 16″ x 16″.  The comments by our readers developed a great deal of information about rechargeable batteries and the possibility of them catching fire. We also learned about several other drone crashes that started fires.

In May we published an article about the fact that electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries present a complex and hazardous situation for firefighters responding to a vehicle accident.

The fact is, there are many examples of both lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries catching fire. There is no doubt that when a lithium ion battery is subject to an impact, a short circuit can occur in one or more of the cells, creating heat which may ignite the chemicals inside the battery. This can spread to the adjoining cells and lead to the condition known as “thermal runaway” in which the fire escalates. If as in a vehicle, there are thousands of batteries, it can be extremely difficult to extinguish the blaze. And worse, it can reignite days or weeks later.

When compact fluorescent light bulbs were introduced they saved energy but were slow to get fully bright and many people thought the color of the light was unpleasant. I knew then that it was immature lighting technology. There were going to be better options. Now LED bulbs save even more energy, come in various light temperatures (colors), and illuminate at near full brightness immediately. For now, they are expensive, but will still pay for themselves in three to five years.

Lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries are the compact fluorescent bulbs of battery technology. They are too heavy, don’t hold enough power, and they too often catch fire. No one wants to be on an airplane when flames erupt from an e-cigarette, cell phone, wireless headphones, or laptop computer, all of which can ignite even if they are turned off.

So until that next major step in battery technology occurs, what do we do about drones? Is the risk so low that we should not be concerned? When land managers enact fire restrictions during periods of high wildfire danger, do we also prohibit the use of drones? Should drones ever be allowed over vegetation in a fire-prone environment during wildfire season? And what about the hundreds of drones owned and operated by the Department of the Interior that flew 5,000 missions last year? Not all are battery operated, but some are.

We thank Mr. Austin-Connolly for providing the information, photos, and the video. When we asked, he said, “If my experience can be helpful I’m all for it.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Drone catches fire, ignites wildfire north of Flagstaff

(UPDATED at 11:33 a.m. MST March 7, 2018)

The drone that landed, caught fire, and ignited what became a 335-acre fire in Northern Arizona was battery-powered and approximately 16″ x 16″, a spokesperson for the Coconino National Forest said. The operator reported the fire and was later cited for causing timber, trees, slash, brush, or grass to burn. The spokesperson did not know exactly how the drone caught fire.

****

(Originally published at 4:42 p.m. MST March 6, 2018)

Kendrick Fire Arizona

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

There’s no doubt that Unmanned Aerial Systems can play an important part in improving situational awareness for wildland firefighters.

But today investigators have determined that the preliminary cause of a wildfire north of Flagstaff is a drone that landed and caught fire. At 3:25 p.m. MST Tuesday the Coconino National Forest said firefighters had stopped the spread of the resulting wildfire after it burned 335 acres near Kendrick Park by Forest Roads 514 and 524.

map kendrick fire

There is no information yet about the operator of the drone or if it was powered by a battery or gasoline.

All of these photos were provided by the Coconino National Forest.

Kendrick Fire Arizona

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Drone operator arrested for interfering with firefighting aircraft

Gene Alan Carpenter
Gene Alan Carpenter

A man was arrested in Prescott, Arizona for flying a drone into the airspace near the Goodwin Fire that as of Friday had burned over 25,000 acres southeast of the city.

Gene Alan Carpenter, a 54-year-old from Prescott Valley, is accused of endangering 14 aircraft and ground personnel with a “substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury” by flying a drone near or over the fire. All firefighting aircraft had to be grounded for about an hour on Wednesday, June 28.

In 2016 Arizona passed a law making it illegal to fly a drone that interfered with emergency or law enforcement efforts. It is likely that a Temporary Flight Restriction was in effect over the fire at that time which would make it a violation of federal law for any aircraft to invade the space without permission.

If a drone collided with a firefighting helicopter or fixed wing aircraft it could cause great harm especially if it hit a windshield or engine. And if the aircraft crashes, killing the pilots, firefighters on the ground would also be in danger from the falling debris.

The safety of firefighters is compromised when all of the helicopters, lead planes, air attack, and air tankers are grounded, preventing the aircraft from slowing the fire so that firefighters can move in and construct fireline. When aircraft and ground personnel disengage, homes and private property could be destroyed that might otherwise have been saved with an aggressive firefighting attack. Some air tankers when grounded by an intruding aircraft can’t land with a full load of retardant, so they have to jettison it, wasting thousands of dollars worth of the product.

On June 24 multiple witnesses reported seeing a man operating a drone at the Goodwin Fire standing next to a white van.

Below is an excerpt from an article at 12news:

The sheriff’s office said based on witness information, drone descriptions and photos from Carpenter’s website showing drone views of the Goodwin Fire, deputies began searching for him.

Carpenter was arrested Friday afternoon after an off-duty deputy spotted his van on Willow Creek Road in Prescott. The drone was found in the van and seized.

Detectives are meeting with federal officials Monday to discuss additional charges based on the federal statutes regarding temporary flight restrictions.

Mr. Carter is in custody at Yavapai County facilities at Camp Verde, Arizona charged with 14 counts of endangerment, all felonies, and one misdemeanor.

Drones interfere with aviation operations on Pinal Fire

Above: Undated Inciweb photo of the Pinal Fire.

Four separate incidents involving hobbyists flying drones are hindering operations on the 4,991-acre Pinal Fire since the fire was detected May 8 in the Tonto National Forest five miles south of Globe, Arizona.

The latest drone sighting occurred May 24, 2017. An air tanker flying over the fire was forced to release its retardant at a higher altitude for safety reasons. The higher drop reduced the retardant’s effectiveness on the fire. Subsequently, aviation operations were suspended until the drone issue was resolved.

On May 20, 2017, a law enforcement officer cited a hobbyist for flying a drone near the Pinal Fire.

Pinal Fire map
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Pinal Fire. The red dots are the most recent, from 3:15 a.m. MDT May 26, 2017.

Forest Service officials continue to emphasize that flying drones over or in close proximity to wildfires is illegal, endangers aviators as well as crews on the ground, and slows operations which potentially could result in the fire increasing in size.

Deputy Forest Supervisor Tom Torres, Tonto National Forest, explained that flying a drone near a wildfire is, in fact, breaking the law.

“The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations 43 CFR 9212.1(f) – indicates that it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire,” Torres said. “Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance.

Drone operators determined to have endangered manned aircraft or people on the ground and/or interfered with wildfire suppression may be subject to civil penalties, including fines of up to $25,000, and potentially criminal prosecution.

Management of the fire

The Pinal Fire is being managed, not aggressively suppressed. One of the objectives is to create a continuous fuel break between the Pinal Mountains and the town of Globe five miles to the north.

Firefighters are involved in preparation and defense of structures and infrastructure along the indirect control lines from which firing operations could be conducted where necessary to maintain low intensity fire conditions and prevent unwanted impacts to the values at risk.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

FAA sends email to drone users about flying near wildfires

Several times in the last 10 days drones flying near wildfires have required that firefighting aircraft cease operations, sometimes for hours at a time.

Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration sent a mass email to individuals who have registered their drones with the agency, warning them that “drone operators who interfere with wildfire suppression efforts are subject to civil penalties of up to $27,500 and possible criminal prosecution”.

FAA email drone warning
FAA emailed drone warning, June 29, 2016.