Drones to be used to tackle forest fires this summer

More than 600 hectares of Coillte forest was damaged by fires last year

A helicopter takes water to the site of a fire in the Slieve Bloom mountains last year. Photograph: Laois Fire and Rescue/Twitter

A helicopter takes water to the site of a fire in the Slieve Bloom mountains last year. Photograph: Laois Fire and Rescue/Twitter

 

Drones are to used this summer in a pilot project aimed at tackling forest fires, Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Service have announced.

Last year Coillte tackled over 150 forest fires with the largest of these in the Slieve Bloom mountains in Laois and Offaly.

In 2018, over 600 hectares of the Coillte forest was damaged by fires which cost the State more than€4 million to manage.

This year however Coillte and the NPWS are hoping drones will act as their “eye in the sky” giving them early warnings of fires and saving valuable time in preventing fires taking hold over large areas.

Drones can also be equipped with infrared cameras that peer through smoke, as well as sensors for wind direction and other weather variables that affect how fires spread.

They will capture continuous footage of areas deemed as high-risk and spot small fires that otherwise could not have been detected until they had become much larger and harder to contain, said Pat Neville, Coillte communications manager,

The pilot project will initially be rolled out in the Dublin mountains. If the initiative is successful both NPWS and Coillte will look at rolling out the technology in other areas.

According to the Department of Agriculture many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by wildfires, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan, who has responsibility for the NPWS, said fires represented “more than a commercial loss”.

“There is a huge environmental loss resulting from forest fires. The drones will be able to help establish firebreaks and keep wildfires from spreading and reduce the risk of environmental damage.”

Mr Neville said that “utilising this technology will allow drones to become our eyes in the skies, and enable our teams to spot the earliest moment a fire starts, helping to save not only the environment but most importantly people’s lives”.