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Navigating Wildfires with Drones: A Glimpse into wildfire hotspot detection work

Navigating Wildfires with Drones: A Glimpse into wildfire hotspot detection work

bc wildfire detection

In recent times, the drone world has been abuzz with stories of these aerial wonders aiding in the fight against wildfires. This realization has cemented the role of UAV's as indispensable tools in wildfire suppression efforts. But beyond the headlines, have you ever wondered about the intricate workings of drones in these critical scenarios? This blog is your ticket to a deeper understanding of the behind-the-scenes action that goes into providing drone services in emergency and disaster environments. 

First off, let's establish a fundamental fact: the unauthorized operation of drones in disaster or emergency zones is illegal. While drones hold immense potential, unregulated flights in these areas pose a significant threat to manned aircraft operations and can impede the crucial work of first responders. The importance of proper training and certification cannot be overstated, and it’s this rigor that authorized agencies adhere to when undertaking such missions. All our operations are carried out with official authorization and unwavering adherence to regulations.  


Perhaps you're the owner of a drone, and your heart is set on contributing by offering your services. However, it's essential to clarify that good drone piloting skills alone do not suffice when it comes to providing meaningful services to emergency response agencies. Consider the rigorous training and certification that the Candrone wildfire drone crew undergoes before they are even considered for deployment. Stay with us till the end to learn how you can be part of this impactful endeavor. 

The diverse skillset required encompasses (non exhaustive list): 

  • First Aid + Transportation Endorsement: A foundation in emergency medical care paired with transportation skills. 
  • Fire Weather Understanding: Comprehending the intricate dynamics of fire conditions. 
  • Effective Radio Communication: The ability to communicate clearly and efficiently, including the know-how to summon helicopter evacuation if circumstances intensify. 
  • Basic Fire Suppression Techniques: Mastery over setting up pumps, hoses, and employing effective hosing methods. 
  • Fire Entrapment Training: Preparedness for scenarios where escape routes are compromised. 
  • Advanced RPAS Pilot Certificate: Proficiency in Remote Pilot Aircraft System operation. 
  • ROC-A (Radio Operator Certificate - Aeronautical): Acquiring the certificate for aeronautical radio operation. 
  • SFOC Application: Mandatory for operations above 400 feet and beyond visual line of sight. 

wildfire drone crew

Candrone wildfire drone crew

A considerable effort spanning weeks is required to fulfill these prerequisites, demanding both substantial time and financial investment. Moreover, in addition to advanced drone technology, an array of ancillary equipment and supplies, ranging from camping gear to generators, approved vehicles, fire suppression equipment, survival gear, personal protective equipment (PPE), and even sustenance like Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), are crucial components of the toolkit. 


drone hotspot wildfire detection

Turning to the operational aspect, the Candrone crew operates the DJI Matrice 300 alongside the H20T thermal camera. Notably, the built-in strobe lights on the Matrice 300 prove invaluable during nighttime hotspot detection missions. Additionally, portable LED lamps illuminate the take-off and landing zones, ensuring safe operations even under low-light conditions. Hotspot detection missions are conducted overnight and into early morning hours when the ground temperature has cooled, providing the most contrast in temperature. 

 DJI H20T laser range finder

A game-changer is the H20 series camera's laser rangefinder, allowing for pinpoint accuracy in marking hotspots by aligning the thermal camera's crosshair with the target. The missions are meticulously executed through waypoint mapping, guaranteeing comprehensive coverage of the designated project area. 

 dji pinpointing hotspots

The operational team comprises a Pilot-in-Command (PIC) alongside a Visual Observer (VO). An added layer of vigilance is achieved by connecting the smart controller to a larger screen via HDMI, providing an extra set of eyes. The temperature alarm feature aids in identifying temperature extremes within the scanned region, while filtering out readings below 0 degrees Celsius helps spot anomalies. Interestingly, despite summer nights, temperatures occasionally dip into single digits in northern BC, which aids in highlighting hotspots. 

A delicate balance must be struck between operational efficiency and data accuracy. Higher altitudes often introduce atmospheric interference, affecting temperature readings. Here, terrain following plays a crucial role, maintaining consistent Above Ground Level (AGL) readings in mountainous terrain. 

Temperature readings at hotspot sites generally peak around 170 degrees Celsius, though this figure decreases with altitude, hovering around 100 degrees Celsius at altitudes of 90 to 100 meters. Worth noting is the fact that pinpointing wildfire hotspots does not require pinpoint temperature precision but rather qualitative distinctions. 

The workflow involves missions over designated target areas, typically spanning 2 square kilometers. To ensure comprehensive data collection, a 20% overlap and horizontal speeds around 7 meters per second are maintained. While flight routes are automated, human intervention takes center stage in hotspot identification and marking. Upon detecting a hotspot, either the PIC or VO alerts the team, prompting a temporary mission halt for an up-close assessment. 

Each pinpoint is meticulously marked on the screen and linked to a GPS coordinate, which later aids in mapping endeavors. The challenges posed by environmental factors, such as animals or foliage, demand careful adjustments to ensure accurate temperature readings, particularly in cold environments. 

When dealing with emergencies, time is of the essence. Here, the rapid battery replacement capabilities of the DJI enterprise series shine, reducing downtime and maximizing drone uptime. With the H20T payload, flight times approach the 40-minute mark. Battery swaps occur with the swiftness of a NASCAR pit stop, ensuring a quick return to airborne operations. 

Watch an overview of the DJI features built for first responders and public safety: 

The Data 

wild fire hotspot map

However, data acquisition is merely the tip of the iceberg. The subsequent data processing and presentation phase, tailored to the unique needs of wildfire services, poses its own set of challenges. While automated software solutions sound promising, practical experience reveals their limitations. Thankfully, our adept data processing team harnessed QGIS, a geospatial software, to develop a workflow that aligned seamlessly with wildfire service requisites. This simplified process involves exporting DJI's pinpoints and importing them into QGIS to generate comprehensive maps. 

drone northern lights

The work 

In the world of emergency response, being on standby 24/7 is par for the course, with rapid deployment a necessity. Deployments often span several weeks, necessitating navigation through remote terrains devoid of conventional power or communication networks. These missions frequently encounter wildlife, fallen trees, and impassable roads. The experience is demanding yet immensely gratifying. Our dedicated crew, armed with the necessary resources and expertise, makes a tangible contribution to society's well-being. 

For those intrigued by this line of work, the prospect of joining our drone pilot network beckons. Submit your application here

Learn more about the DJI Matrice 350 RTK:

Learn more about the DJI Zenmuse H20T:

For inquiries concerning equipment, training, and consulting, our team stands ready to assist via live chat. Embarking on a journey to apply technology in a way that benefits society is a fulfilling endeavor that awaits you. 


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