Drones to help fight spread of wildfires

Aerial footage of the blaze on Slieve Bloom
Aerial footage of the blaze on Slieve Bloom

The National Parks and Wildlife Service has teamed up with Coillte to tackle wildfires using drones.

Under the plan, drone technology to be used for the first time in Ireland to survey areas and spot fires to prevent spread and a pilot project will be initially rolled out in the Dublin Mountains.

This pilot is the first of its kind, and will initially be rolled out in the Dublin Mountains. It 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, and will remain in place until Sunday [May 19] - with more warnings expected during the summer months ahead. 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.

Members of the 3rd battalion in Stephens barracks deal with a gorse fire in the Slieve bloom Mountains last July. Photo: Damien Eagers
Members of the 3rd battalion in Stephens barracks deal with a gorse fire in the Slieve bloom Mountains last July. Photo: Damien Eagers

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

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.

Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, said: “We are delighted that Coillte are joining us in this initiative in combatting wildfires during this high-risk period. 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: “We are delighted to join with the NPWS on their initiative to tackle the growing risk of forest fires. 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.

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