Restoring prairie and fighting wildfire with (drone launched) fire(balls)

From Ecological Society of America:

IMAGE: UNL Graduate student Christina Bielski recorded data during a high intensity prescribed fire burning through juniper-invaded grassland on private property. view more

Credit: Dirac Twidwell

Ecologist Dirac Twidwell wants to change the way we think about prescribed burns.

The University of Nebraska professor says he can harness extreme fire to restore grasslands on the Great Plains–and, with the help of the Nebraska Intelligent MoBile Unmanned Systems (NIMBUS) Lab, he has created a small drone that launches ping-pong balls-sized “dragon eggs” of fire to help him do it safely and cheaply. The two-pound hexacopter could be used to aid in wildfire suppression as well as to ignite prescribed burns for management of wildlands and rangeland, he says, taking on dangerous jobs currently carried out by helicopter pilots and ground crews.

In an article published today (1 August 2016) in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Twidwell and colleagues review the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in fire management.

Twidwell will speak more broadly about innovations in fire management and his experiments across the Great Plains with high intensity fires during severe drought on Friday, 12 August 2016 at the 101st Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“Nobody is really studying high intensity fire, because everyone would think you are crazy. We have always been told that high intensity fires during drought are bad. That’s the problem: we have been studying fire when we were told it is OK to ignite and control fires on landscapes. To me, it’s a job for scientists to do. If we are going to understand the role of fire in nature, we need to study a bigger range of intensities, and we need new approaches to do it,” said …

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