Drone sent up to aid Calif. wildfire fight
GROVELAND, Calif. — Firefighters battling the giant wildfire burning in the Sierra Nevada added a California National Guard Predator drone to their arsenal on Wednesday to give them almost immediate views of any portion of the flames chewing through rugged forests in and around Yosemite National Park.
The MQ-1 unmanned aircraft being remotely piloted hundreds of miles away quickly alerted fire bosses to a new flare-up they otherwise wouldn't have immediately seen.
“They're piping what they're seeing directly to the incident commander, and he's seeing it in real time over a computer network,” said National Guard Lt. Col. Tom Keegan.
Previously ground commanders relied on helicopters that needed to refuel every two hours.
The 12-day-old Rim fire continued to grow, expanding to 292 square miles, and containment remained at 23 percent. But increasingly confident fire officials said they expect to fully surround it in three weeks, although it will burn for much longer than that.
“It's looking better every day,” said incident spokesman Glen Stratton.
While unmanned aircraft have mapped past fires, use of the Predator will be the longest sustained mission by a drone in California to broadcast information to firefighters in real time.
The plane, the size of a small Cessna, will remain over the burn zone for up to 22 hours at a time, allowing fire commanders to monitor fire activity, determine the fire's direction of movement, the extent of containment and confirm new fires ignited by lightning or flying embers.
The drone is being flown by the 163rd Wing of the California National Guard at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and is operating from Victorville Airport, both in Southern California. It generally flew over unpopulated areas on its 300-mile flight to the Rim fire. Outside the fire area it will be escorted by a manned aircraft.
Officials were careful to point out the images are being used only to aid in the effort to contain the fire.
In 2009, a NASA Predator equipped with an infrared imaging sensor helped the Forest Service assess damage from a fire in Angeles National Forest. In 2008, a drone capable of detecting hot spots helped firefighters assess movement of a series of wildfires stretching from Southern California's Lake Arrowhead to San Diego.
The Rim fire started on Aug. 17 and quickly exploded in size, becoming one of the 10 largest California wildfires on record. Its progression slowed earlier this week when it moved from parts of the forest with thick underbrush that had not burned in nearly a century to areas that had seen fire in the past two decades.
But it will burn for months, possibly until California's dry season ends this fall.
“My prediction is it will burn until we see rain,” said Hugh Safford, a regional ecologist with the Forest Service.
That means the smoke could continue to foul air north of Yosemite in the Lake Tahoe basin and neighboring Nevada, although residents received something of a reprieve when for the first time in three days blue sky was sometimes visible through the haze.
The air quality index in the Reno area still had improved only to the “unhealthy” level.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Supreme Court rules against Kentucky county clerk on gay marriage licenses
- Russia, China ply cyberdata to exploit U.S. spies
- Suspect in Houston-area deputy’s death has history of mental illness, prosecutors say
- McKinley backers balk over mountain’s name change
- Alaska-bound, Obama makes waves by renaming Mount McKinley
- Lost hiker survived 9 days with broken leg in California’s Sierra Nevada
- CDC lauds schools for better nutrition
- Postal Service falls short of slower mail delivery standards
- Clinton: Women ‘expect’ extremism from terrorists, not GOP candidates
- Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Fischer open to interest rate hike
- University of Texas removes statue of Confederate President Davis