FAA approves drones to monitor wildfires in Washington state

A ScanEagle drone launches at Boeing’s test facility in eastern Oregon. (Boeing photo)

In the event wildfires break out in Washington state this year, the Department of Natural Resources will be able to track the spread of the blaze with a new tool: a 40-pound drone known as a “ScanEagle.”

The DNR was given permission by the Federal Aviation Administration to use the drone for monitoring fires that “pose an urgent threat.” The four-foot-long drone sports a 10-foot wingspan and an array of cameras, and is manufactured by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing. According to Peter Goldmark, Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands, the drone will be a boon to firefighting efforts.

“Use of a UAV can help get real-time information to firefighters on the ground,” he said in a press release. “Just over the last few days we’ve seen more than a hundred fire starts in Washington. Additional information can provide a safer operating environment for firefighters.”  

The DNR frequently uses aircraft to track wildfires, but smoke and winds can ground airplanes and helicopters when they’re needed. The ScanEagle doesn’t need to worry as much about those inclement conditions, and that means there should be more accurate data flowing to firefighters on the ground more often.

According to the release, any decision to deploy the ScanEagle will be made in real time when fighting a fire, and will depend on the conditions at play.

The news comes after the Washington State Legislature voted to give the DNR the authority to deploy drones to monitor and suppress wildfires.

As previously reported, the use of drones have been banned in U.S. National Parks.

Previously on GeekWireWashington task force meets to discuss drone regulation

Blair Hanley Frank is GeekWire's Bay Area Correspondent. He has also worked for Macworld, PCWorld and TechHive. He can be found on Twitter @belril and can be reached by email atblair@geekwire.com.

Views: 727

Comment by Jesse on July 17, 2014 at 11:19pm

This is great news. These fires are terrible. I live in Spokane, WA. It was extremely smokey here today. It looked like an overcast day, despite there being no clouds at all. The smell of smoke was strong too.

Comment by mP1 on July 18, 2014 at 2:24am

According to wiki they cost 800k each.

Comment by Leszek Pawlowicz on July 18, 2014 at 11:00am

Drones haven't been banned in National Parks, just unauthorized use. They can still be used for research and other purposes with the clearance of Park management.

Comment by Mathew krawczun on July 18, 2014 at 9:01pm

you see this is how its done right and why I said the FAA rules wouldn't stop rescue teams from using drone.   


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