Drones to be used to combat wildfires amid orange warning

Drones to be used to combat wildfires amid orange warning
A man stands by and watches as fire engulves dry gorse in the West Wicklow Mountains earlier this year. Now the NPWS and Coilte will use drones to help combat gorse fires. Picture: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has teamed up with the State-owned forestry business Coillte to combat wildfires using drones.

The use of drone technology will initially be rolled out in the Dublin Mountains and comes after an Orange fire warning (the third highest of four warning levels) was issued by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine earlier this week, with more warnings expected during the summer months ahead.

Drones will be used for the first time in Ireland to survey areas and spot fires before they spread out of control. If the pilot initiative is successful, both NPWS and Coillte will look to roll out this technology in other areas.

Over recent years, many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by wildfires, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage.

Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which oversees the NPWS, said she is delighted that Coillte is joining the initiative: “It’s not just a commercial loss when these fires happen, 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.

Pat Neville, Coillte communications manager, said the use of drones could prove a lifesaver.

“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,” he said.

Last year Coillte tackled more than 150 forest fires with the largest and most dangerous of these incidents occurring in the Slieve Blooms in Laois and Offaly. In 2018, more than 600 hectares of the Coillte estate was damaged by forest fires and it cost the State more than €4m.

Mr Neville added: “Drones can 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 deem as high-risk and spot small fires that otherwise could not have been detected until they had become much larger and harder to contain.

"With the Forest Fire weather warning still in place, we ask people to remain vigilant,” he added.

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