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Droning in on Colorado’s wildfires in advance of warmer, drier weather

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They’re used in war and in peace, in espionage, in sports coverage and just for fun. Now, some state lawmakers want to use drones to fight Colorado wildfires and help in other emergencies.

The bipartisan House Bill 1070, which unanimously passed the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee this week after having been approved earlier by the House, directs the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control to study, “…the most feasible and readily available ways to integrate (drone) technology within local and state government functions relating to firefighting, search and rescue, accident reconstruction, and emergency management…”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, in the House and Sens. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, in the Senate.

Drone technology increasingly holds promise. Its use in fighting fires is becoming more common, as in this Texas fire department:

…The Sabine (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department is now using a drone called S.A.R.A during fires to get a better idea of how to fight them.

S.A.R.A. is an acronym for Sabine Aerial Response Apparatus. Sabine Chief Richard Sisk (says), “It’s another set of eyes in the air at a low cost, but a high benefit for safety in the fire service.” …He only has 17 volunteers at the department.

“Sometimes I only have two. We show up on a grass fire or a call for mutual aid and we do those things, but I can put S.A.R.A. in the air run her up 400 feet and I can see where the head of the fire is at,” Sisk revealed.

A Senate GOP press release quotes Coram:

“In the past year alone, Colorado has seen 16 fires with nearly 60,000 acres burned…Preventing wildfire and keeping our emergency responders out of harm’s way has to be a top priority in our state. New and emerging technology can help us pioneer new solutions to tackle this problem. As the weather gets warmer and dryer, there really is no time to waste.”

The study would not be funded by tax dollars but rather by “gifts, grants and donations” — a standard legislative catch phrase attached to proposals for which no public money is available or anticipated. The authors don’t want that reality to hold up their legislation, of course, so they promise to find the money. Somewhere. The bill now heads to the Appropriations Committee.

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