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Fire-starting drones are actually helping some firefighters

A drone designed to deliberately start fires may sound like an alarming proposition, but such a machine is actually providing assistance to firefighters in Australia.

That’s because the specialized drone is being used to start backfires. A backfire is a controlled burn procedure aimed at preventing the spread of wildfires. It works by burning a line of defense so that the wildfire has nothing to consume when it reaches that point.

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Tests using the fire-starting drones are being carried out in Wimmera, Victoria, about 400 miles west of the Australian capital, Canberra, ZDNet reported this week.

Forest Fire Management Victoria, which is organizing the burns, said using the drones will improve safety conditions on the ground and save time as those organizing backfires will no longer have to navigate creeks and hazardous vegetation to start the burns themselves. More accurate burns are said to be another benefit.

Lily D’Ambrosio, Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment, and Climate Change, said that by improving its methods and trialing new technology, “We are able to deliver a more effective planned burning program to protect communities and the environment from bushfires.”

D’Ambrosio added: “Climate change and more extreme weather events are changing the nature of bushfires, so it’s important we take action now to minimize risk to human life and our native wildlife.”

Local lawmaker Jaala Pulford said she was pleased to see local crews “exploring innovative ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of planned burning. This work will help to protect our treasured natural environment and improve bushfire safety.”

But firefighters in Victoria aren’t using drones just to start fires. The local government earlier this year announced a new aviation unit with four new drones to help crews monitor wildfires from the sky. Unlike the crew’s earlier drones that only had a video camera for livestreaming, the new drones also come with a thermal imaging camera capable of showing temperature variations.

And just this week the authorities in neighboring New South Wales announced that firefighters will be receiving $42 million worth of equipment that will include new drones to help them tackle wildfires.

Similar to the U.S., Australia has been witnessing worsening wildfires in recent years, with the 2019-2020 season one of the worst on record.

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