USA – Wildland firefighters are a step closer to what some call the “holy grail of safety” for fighting wildfires. The House of Representatives passed the Wildfire Management Technology Management Act on Tuesday. The bill would expand the use of drones to map wildfires in real time and provide GPS tracking of firefighters. It’s now headed to President Donald Trump’s desk.
This past year was the busiest wildfire season ever in Washington with 1,826 wildfires.
“We need to give communities and firefighters every tool possible,” Sen. Maria Cantwell said Tuesday on the Senate Floor. Cantwell co-sponsored the bill which passed Congress with bipartisan support.
More drones will be used to map out the wildfires in real time through smoke and at night, and track firefighters with GPS. Cantwell talked about how it could’ve helped in the recent Mendocino Complex fire in California.
“In one case no one knew where six entrapped firefighters were,” Cantwell said. “The result was all six suffered injuries because it took quite awhile to locate and rescue them.”
This past fall the real-time mapping was used to fight wildfires in Grants Pass, Oregon. It relays information to firefighters on the ground in realtime of the fire dangers around them.
“Normally what we’re doing is we have a glove off, with the back of our hands feeling the ground for hot spots,” Oregon firefighter Todd Abel said. “With this new technology it’s a whole lot easier.”
The bill provides $2 billion in funding for wildfire firefighting yearly through 2027.
“The combination of real-time mapping and GPS locators has been referred to by firefighters as quote, the Holy Grail of Wildland Firefighting Safety,” Cantwell said on Tuesday.
The bill includes NASA mapping access to help prevent mudslides in areas devastated by wildfires. It will also improve Smoke Forecasting by assigning meteorologists to every large fire.
Funding will be available for the coming wildfire season if and when Trump signs it.