Drones are being deployed by Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to combat the spread of forest and wildfires over the summer.
The drones will monitor designated ‘hot spots’ across regions of Dublin, Wicklow, and the midlands.
The drones are equipped with cameras that peer through smoke, as well as with sensors for wind direction and for other weather variables that affect how fires spread.
They can capture continuous footage of areas deemed as high risk and spot small fires that could not have been detected until they had become much larger and much harder to contain.
Josepha Madigan, the culture, heritage, and Gaeltacht minister, said as well as having severe localised impact on flora and fauna, setting fires during the coronavirus national public health emergency is particularly reckless.
It places unnecessary additional pressures on emergency services, who are critical to managing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Madigan said wildfires are not a natural phenomenon in Ireland; the main challenge is to encourage members of the public, including landowners, farmers, and recreational users of publicly accessible land, to act responsibly at all times.
NPWS regional manager Wesley Atkinson said wildfires can cause huge environmental damage to protected habitats and wildlife.
“The drones will help us to establish fire outbreaks and keep wildfires from spreading,” he said.
Deborah Meghen, director of stewardship, risk, and advocacy at Coillte, said this is the second year the drone technology is being used for forest fire protection.
Last year, it resulted in a significant reduction in forest fires, with just over 50 reported, down from 150 in 2018.
“This represents a very good year, in terms of forest damage, with only 25 hectares affected, compared with over 600 hectares damaged in 2018,” she said.
Ms Meghan said damage from forest fires and wildfires would be far more significant every year were it not for the efforts of Coillte and NPWS staff, along with local fire services and the Air Corps.
“Coillte manages the State’s investment in timber and these are the trees that build homes and businesses, so their loss is also a significant economic impact.”