Drone technology a "valuable asset" in bushfire mitigation

Technology such as drones could be a “valuable asset” in helping bushfire mitigation, Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades acting executive officer Darren Brown has said. 

The Serpentine Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade shared a video on June 21 about ways drones can help with bushfire mitigation out in the field. 

Bushfire prevention and mitigation known as prescribed burning or removal of combustible material, such as scrubs and undergrowth can prevent the outbreak of major fires. 

Mr Brown said drones have the potential to be a valuable tool to assist the 26,000 bushfire volunteers across the state. 

"Although nothing beats the expert knowledge and professional skills of local bush fire volunteers, drones have the potential to provide fast and cost-effective video intelligence regarding wind and fire behaviour, alternative access routes and risk assessment in terms of the location of people and their assets," Mr Brown said.  

"We are also seeing drones equipped with a number of other devices such as fire starting tools, fire extinguishing tools and thermal cameras – all of which have a place in every volunteer bush fire truck’s tool kit.

“Although a lot more research is needed, these types of machines may be able to assist in starting a planned burn in an area that is the best for the acute conditions but is too difficult or dangerous for a fire fighter to access.”

Mr Brown said drones were only useful to them when placed in the correct hands of an expert. 

"It’s very clear that tools are only useful when operated by someone with local expert knowledge of the local terrain, its people and culture,” he said. 

Shire of Collie chief fire control officer Julian Martin said there were some positives and negatives surrounding drones. 

“Certainly they would work for watching for spot fires, making sure mitigation burns stay within the confines of where they are actually intending to burn and so it doesn’t escape. The obvious thing there is it needs to be done by the incident controller or the person in control of the fire,” Mr Martin said. 

“Around incidents there has been some dramas where aircraft have been grounded as a result of privately owned drones.

“Wherever there is aircraft involved in a fire they’ve immediately got to be stood down and away from the fire and so they do pose a hazard if they are unauthorised but if it is authorised by the incident controller then they serve a purpose then there is no harm in using technology to our advantage.”

Mr Martin said Collie had luckily not had a drone pose as a hazard in the past. 

South West bush fire control officer Allan Guthrie said drones didn't necessarily have the same capabilities as volunteers do.

“They can’t really measure the total fuel load as it comes in per hectare, they can give you a view of it and during the operation they can help, especially when you haven’t got aircraft in tell, so that way you can see the rate it is spreading and how it is going,” Mr Guthrie said.