The use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drones, by wildland firefighters has come a long way since one was first used in in 2016 to ignite a prescribed fire at Homestead National Monument near Beatrice, Nebraska. That drone, developed by staff from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, could easily be held in one hand and could carry about a dozen plastic spheres that ignite 30 to 45 seconds after being dropped by the aircraft.
In 2018 the Bureau of Land Management began testing a much larger drone to serve as an aerial ignition platform, the Matrisse 600 that can carry up to 13 pounds. In case you’re curious, you can buy one yourself — prices start at around $5,000 before you begin adding a gimbal, camera, and other accessories.
In June, 2019 a Matrisse was used for aerial ignition on the Maroon Fire 18 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. Currently a similar aircraft has been used for the last two nights for firing operations on the Inyo National Forest on the Springs Fire 13 miles southeast of Lee Vining, California. So far the aircraft has been used to ignite approximately 20 to 40 acres in some of the northern units of the fire and the plan is to ignite more as early as tonight, as conditions allow.
Kerry Greene, an Information Officer for the Springs Fire, said the advantages of using the UAS platform over hand firing in this case are, precision of application, protection of cultural sites, reduction of risk and exposure to firefighters, and minimizing firefighter fatigue.