Drones fly Idaho skies to help with fires

Drones fly Idaho skies to help with fires »Play Video
Photo courtesy U.S Department of the Interior

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Local research groups are sending unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, up in the Idaho sky. And while this may cause fear for privacy for some, researchers say there's no reason to worry.

"We are looking at the vegetation," said Dr. Thomas Wuerzer, a BSU professor leading an unmanned aerial vehicle research team, "We are not looking in your back yard."

Dr. Wuerzer says the devices are being used in several different projects across the state to aid in wildfire recovery and prevention.

They hover about 400 feet in the air and take pictures of land. Scientists can then determine how badly an area has been burned and what its risk for mudslides and other damage is. They can also work to prevent fires by analyzing vegetation and finding the more fire-prone areas.

Dr. Wuerzer says the research project he's leading will help people who live near the foothills better protect their homes from fire. But even though he's working in an area near subdivisions, he's not permitted to fly over any residential areas, and he says pictures are only taken of uninhabited land.

"There's no intention to spy on our people and our residents," Wuerzer explained, "This is about increasing quality of life. This is about helping with better knowledge. And if technology helps with that, I think we should certainly support that."

The drones Wuerzer and his team are using have been donated by the military. They cost around $1,500 dollars an hour to operate. That bill is split by BSU and the Department of the Interior.