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Paso Robles firefighters using a drone to detect fires in the riverbed

paso robles firefighter drone.jpg
Posted at 4:52 PM, Jul 01, 2021

Firefighters in Paso Robles have a new tool for preventing wildfires in the Salinas Riverbed.

Paso Robles Fire & Emergency Services is turning to drones to help spot dangerous fire conditions from the sky. The riverbed is a hot spot for fires with seven fires last month alone.

With summer here, brush and grasses are dry, meaning more fires are inevitable.

"To date, we've had just over 55 fires so far this year in the riverbed," said Chief Jonathan Stornetta.

To stay on top of preventing fires, besides goats grazing, Paso Robles Fire & Emergency Services has a new vantage point, an aerial view of the fire-prone area in the day or at night.

"Our mission with this piece of equipment is to detect fires early and to extinguish them early," Chief Stornetta explained.

The unmanned aerial vehicle can cover the 480 acres of the Salinas Riverbed that stretches 3.5 miles much faster than someone could by foot.

"Just see things that we've never seen before and tell us hazards we haven't seen before," said firefighter/paramedic Kevin Conner.

Conner runs the UAV.

"We can only fly up to a maximum of 400 feet, dependent on our airspace," Conner said.

The piece of technology is equipped with infrared, thermal imaging, spotlights, and a PA speaker.

They say it's already proving to be successful in its short run overhead.

"We were able to find hot coals from a fire that was left unattended and we were able to respond down and extinguish those coals," Chief Stornetta said.

He adds that the majority of the fires they fight in the riverbed are human-caused.

While it won't be announced when it's hitting the sky, you may see it on random days and times.

"We can fly throughout the riverbed and detect the hot spots if we come across them," Chief Stornetta said.

When a fire is detected, it gives the fire department an advantage.

"We can react and respond much quicker," Chief Stornetta explained.

They're the first department in San Luis Obispo County utilizing this technology as we are in the thick of prime fire danger on the Central Coast and across California.

The drone is not flown when there's a fire with aircraft responding to it in the sky.

The cost of the drone is $9,000.

The fire department says they will not be using the drone for any other type of surveillance. It's only to monitor the activity in the riverbed as it relates to fires.