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Forestry Corporation’s drone trials to make hazard reduction burning safer

Forestry Corporation of NSW has been trialing drones for aerial ignition to better understand how this emerging technology can support a safe and effective hazard reduction burning program.

Recent trials in Benandarah State Forest, north of Batemans Bay, have shown drones can effectively ignite hazard reduction burns in hard to access areas. This ultimately means less risk to forestry staff and better bushfire protection for neighbours and forest assets.

Multiple gridded ignition points mean that fires don’t reach high intensities before they run into the next fire. Burns are kept cool to create better mosaic patterns, which is good for ecological diversity.

Drones have huge potential to complement existing hazard reduction practices, said Forestry Corporation Protection Supervisor, Julian Armstrong.

“We used the drone to deliver incendiaries to the target sites, which would have otherwise been difficult and dangerous for staff to access,” Mr Armstrong said.

“Drones meant we could safely carry out the burning program over a wider area, removing fine fuels in a mosaic pattern for a safer and healthier forest. “The trials are not about replacing staff, but will mean staff can work in a safer environment.”

The results showed that over the two day trial, double the area could be burnt using the drone incendiaries for ignition.

“Forestry Corporation ground crews concentrated on lighting the burns from road lines, while drone incendiaries were used to light ridgetops, remote areas and tricky areas such as around powerlines,” Mr Armstrong said.

“The drone is equipped with infra-red technology so we could see where the fire front was slowly burning, even through smoke.

“This was a first for us, and we are really happy with the results – we look forward to running more trials of this technology in the current burning season.

“We’ll build on these learnings, and ultimately will have a clear picture on drone incendiary effectiveness, management and cost-effectiveness in this space.”

The drones were operated by Civil Aviation Safety Authority-certified drone pilots according to a prescribed burn plan.

Forestry Corporation is responsible for preventing and managing fires in two million hectares of state forests across New South Wales. It also assists with large bushfires on private property and other bushland in Australia, and also overseas.

Above: Burn Controller Josh Hyde (right) setting the lighting pattern for the aerial drone ignition program With Justin Wellander from Aerworx Drone pilot.

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