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Improved sensors give firefighters a better view for scouting wildfires


Not too long ago, thermal cameras that mapped advancing wildfires would only work well at night, so it would take hours for a plane to survey a fire, process the data on the ground and pass the information to firefighters early in the morning. But new infrared sensors increasingly deployed on wildfire command aircraft can continuously take photos during the day and download the shots to firefighters on the ground within a couple of minutes. The change, while subtle, means that firefighters can pick out small hotspots of burning embers and drop water on them before they develop into large flaming areas. Drones with similar infrared sensors are also sometimes called into duty, a useful tool to get views of hard-to-reach places in rugged terrain. But the complicated and evolving rules for mixing drones with manned aircraft near wildfires mean that for now, drones are seldom actually deployed.