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Monthly Archives: August 2013

MQ-1 Drone assists Yosemite park firefighters

GROVELAND, Calif. — Firefighters battling the giant wildfire burning in the Sierra Nevada added a California National Guard Predator drone to their arsenal Wednesday to give them almost immediate views of any portion of the flames chewing through rugged forests in and around Yosemite National Park. The MQ-1 unmanned aircraft being remotely piloted hundreds of miles away quickly alerted fire bosses to a new flare-up they otherwise wouldn't have immediately seen. "They're piping what they're seeing directly to the incident commander, and he's seeing it in real time over a computer network," National Guard Lt. Col. Tom Keegan said. Previously ground commanders relied on helicopters that needed to refuel every two hours. The 12-day-old Rim fire continued to grow, expanding to 292 square miles, and containment remained at 23 percent. But increasingly confident fire officials said they expect to fully surround it in three weeks, although it will burn for much longer than that. "It's looking better every day," incident spokesman Glen Stratton said. While unmanned aircraft have mapped past fires, use of the Predator will be the longest sustained mission by a drone in California to broadcast information to firefighters in real time. The plane, the size of a small Cessna, will remain over the burn zone for up to 22 hours at a time, allowing fire commanders to monitor fire activity, determine the fire's direction of movement, the extent of containment and confirm new fires ignited by lightning or flying embers. The drone is being flown by the 163rd Wing of the California National Guard at March Air Reserve Base and is operating from Victorville Airport, both in Southern California. It generally flew over unpopulated areas on its 300-mile flight to the Rim fire. Outside the fire area it will be escorted by a manned aircraft. Officials were careful to point out the images are being used only to aid in the effort to contain the fire. In 2009 a NASA Predator equipped with an infrared imaging sensor helped the U.S. Forest Service assess damage from a fire in Angeles National Forest. In 2008, a drone capable of detecting hot spots helped firefighters assess movement of a series of wildfires stretching from Southern California's Lake Arrowhead to San Diego. The Rim fire started Aug. 17 and quickly exploded in size, becoming one of the 10 largest California wildfires on record. Its progression slowed earlier this week when it moved from parts of the forest with thick underbrush that had not burned in nearly a century to areas that had seen fire in the past two decades. But it will burn for months, possibly until California's dry season ends this fall. "My prediction is it will burn until we see rain," said Hugh Safford, a regional ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. That means the smoke could continue to foul air north of Yosemite in the Lake Tahoe basin and neighboring Nevada, although residents received something of a reprieve Wednesday when for the first time in three days blue sky was sometimes visible through the haze. The air quality index in the Reno area still had improved only to the "unhealthy" level and in Douglas County, Nev., school children were kept indoors again when the index registered in the "hazardous" category Wednesday morning. The air was clear, however, in the tourist mecca of Yosemite Valley, home to the towering Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations and the 2,425-foot plunge of Yosemite Falls. The Rim fire has destroyed 111 structures, including 11 homes, and posed a threat to ancient giant sequoias. The fire also has threatened San Francisco's water supply at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, but Stratton said it was burning itself out as it approached and that crews were lighting backfires to push it back into the wilderness. Source Mail Tribune

Video drone crashes during Virginia running of the bulls

There were lots of ways we imagined people could get hurt during the first Pamplona-style bull-running event held in the United States. Being hit in the head with an aerial drone was not one of them. On Saturday, some 4,000 people turned out at the Virginia Motorsport Park -- a drag strip near Richmond -- to be chased by 24 1,000-pound animals for the inaugural Great Bull Run. There were predictable injuries: Event organizer Rob Dickens told the Daily Press that one runner was nicked by a bull's hoof, another was sent to the hospital after running into a fence. And there were some unpredictable ones, like those caused when a small drone capturing video of the event crashed into the stands. The Washington Post was told by a Dinwiddie County sheriff’s office spokesperson that "four or five people" were injured by the spider-like device, which -- as you can see in the video below -- dips before making its sudden drop into the crowd of observers. "Oh! It just hit a dude in the face!" a man can be heard saying on the video. "It was just falling in the sky ... Oh, my god. That was crazy. It hit him right in the face." "We didn't know what to expect, really," Dinwiddie County Sheriff D.T. “Duck” Adams told The Huffington Post. "Overall it was fine. A few people were injured by the bulls, but nothing serious." http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/26/drone-crashes-into-crowd-virginia_n_3816595.html  

Drone flushes away geese to keep from polluting beach

Canadian lawmakers have enlisted a drone to disperse a large flock of Canada geese at a popular beach this summer, pleasing swimmers concerned about water quality. Canada geese are relatively harmless, but their droppings — which can contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli — pose a public health threat when present in large quantities. Such threats have become increasingly common across Canada in recent years as these birds have increasingly flocked to public spaces, likely attracted to food sources such as lawn grass and trash. Petrie Island, a swimming beach in Ottawa, Ontario, has become one such popular resting spot for the birds, with a flock of about 150 geese feeding there this summer. In the past, the city has used tactics such as sound blasts and trained dogs to try to encourage the geese to find an alternative spot to feed, but the birds continue to return there. Last year, they caused a 13-day beach closure due to unsafe E. coli counts. Ottawa City Councilor Bob Monette has decided to take a novel approach this year by commissioning an Ottawa resident to design a drone to scare away the geese, permitted by the Canadian Wildlife Service and several other governing agencies. In the three weeks that the drone has operated since July, it has reduced the flock down to an average of about 15 per day, Monette told LiveScience. "The beach has not been closed one day since the start of the program this year," Monette said. "It's a vast improvement." The remote-controlled vehicle flies with six rotating blades, spans about 26 inches (66 centimeters), and is outfitted with lights and audio recordings meant to frighten the geese without harming them. The recordings include sounds of potential predators, including owls, fox, wolves and eagles, and play at varying intervals to prevent the birds from becoming comfortable with repeating repertoires of empty threats. Read more...

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