UAVs Brave the Heat of Wildfires

In the United States, Europe, and across the world, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used more and more to detect and fight wildfires.

Right now, thousands of emergency personnel are battling wildfires raging across the western United States. The National Interagency Fire Center reports that, so far, more than 415,000 acres have burned.

This spring, we watched as the most expensive and destructive wildfire in Canadian history ravaged Alberta. Many areas of this fire are still burning and experts believe some sections will continue on for another year.

Wildfires are a problem that urgently needs to be addressed. They destroy habitats, endanger human lives, cause massive destruction, pollute the environment, and negatively impact the economy. This is why scientists are hard at work, testing and developing a variety of systems that could detect forest fires in their early stages, help contain out-of-control blazes, and prevent the death and annihilation that accompanies these disasters.

UAVs offer various solutions to wildfire problems

One way firefighters and rescuers have been able to gain a quick, safe overview of a fire’s breadth is by using UAVs. This is proving to be a highly effective method – particularly because of UAVs’ ability to meet the situational need for speed. For instance, while helicopters and planes take time to deploy, a Microdrones UAV is immediately ready for use, so no time is lost in an emergency.

Another key advantage drones offer toward solving the wildfire problem is their ability to quickly and accurately collect critical data. UAVs like those developed by Microdrones have adjustable payload systems that allow the pilot to attach various equipment, such as gas measurement devices, infrared cameras, and laser scanners.

Because data is instantly transferred to the UAV base station, ground personnel are provided with real-time measurements, infrared photos, and detailed maps of landscapes. This information can facilitate:

  • Detection of threats: explosions, hot spots, gas pollution
  • Locating missing or endangered humans
  • Mapping and surveying landscapes / areas
  • Faster engagement

By allowing advanced UAVs to undertake dangerous wildfire tasks, we can save lives and minimize destruction.

Microdrones looks to the future of wildfire management

Back in 2012, Microdrones partnered with many other organizations to implement its AirShield project, which was designed to measure gas pollution created by wildfires. Our equipment’s toughness was put to the test in these extreme temperatures and high winds but the drones performed well. (This was a good demonstration of the importance of our carbon fiber housing that lets teams deploy in all sorts of severe environmental and weather conditions.)

Our AirShield experience made our organization more aware of the many ways our technologies can help address the significant issue of wildfires. Since then, we have taken note of several outstanding projects that could be enhanced with the use of UAVs.

A great example is FireWatch, a wildfire-detection system that can monitor over 700 square kilometers of land via more than 100 specialized cameras mounted on poles or towers. These cameras have their origin in space research and can take pictures 1,000 times clearer than the human eye can see. Nevertheless, diverse forest structures, topography, landscape, and poor weather conditions can cause deviating measurement results. UAVs could help to elude these accuracy issues.

Another innovative system, developed by a team of engineers and astrophysicists, allows for rapid and accurate detection of hot spots (particularly active parts of a wildfire). The system is able to help rescue teams identify critical areas – an impressive technical feat, since the system is required to quickly extract valuable information from the vast amount of data it collects.

The developers hope that one day, with the help of UAVs, planes, and satellite, the system could reach a massive scale and help firefighters manage wildfires more effectively all over the world. If this software was installed in a Microdrones UAV along with an infrared camera, the system could accomplish great things that would improve the safety of humans and preserve the natural environment.

One last wildfire project the team at Microdrones is keeping an eye on is a German and French collaboration called Anchors (Assisted Ad Hoc Networks for Crisis Management and Hostile Environment Sensing). Their goal is to build an autonomously functioning network of unmanned vehicles, including not only drones but also robots and ground vehicles. If realized, this project could play a vital role in assisting rescuers and protecting human lives.

These are just a few of the innumerable projects happening right now, thanks to researchers who are committed to tackling the issue of wildfires. We say it a lot, but the team here at Microdrones is very aware that it’s an amazing time to be alive and working for a UAV company. We look forward to witnessing the significant contributions drones will make toward overcoming the world’s greatest challenges. And we’re proud to work in such a promising industry.


As we discuss the incredible potential of UAVs to help solve wildfire issues, we feel it’s our responsibility to also mention the dangers of flying drones near wildfires.

Recently, UAVs have been making headlines because people have been flying hobbyist drones over wildfires to take photos and videos. Doing this causes major problems for firefighting aircraft that play critical roles in extinguishing and suppressing wildfires.

If a drone is flying in the vicinity of emergency aircraft, flight crews are unlikely to see the UAV because it is so small. Mid-air collisions with even the smallest of drones could be fatal.

Because of this, firefighting aircraft are often forced to land whenever a drone is spotted in the area. This slows the response time and causes fires to grow larger and more out of control because the aircraft are not available to drop water and fire retardant, collect data from above, and relay tactical info to emergency crews. While the services provided via that aircraft are unavailable, people could die and homes could burn.

Flying a UAV near a wildfire is not only a bad idea – it is illegal. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 43 CFR 9212.1(f) states that it is illegal to “resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire.”

Avoid fines and court appearances and protect the lives of innocent citizens; keep unauthorized UAVs far away from all wildfires!