What if drones were in the sky over the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013 when strong winds overran 19 firefighters? Or the 1994 South Canyon Fire better known for the mountain on which 14 firefighters died after spotting got ahead of them? Or the 1933 Griffith Park Fire that killed nearly 30 civilians after a clearing operation gone bad?

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) – or drones, as they are called colloquially – have been known for years to show great promise for wildfire surveillance and suppression. In March 2019, the Wildfire Management Technology Advancement Act was signed into law as Section 1114 of a broader lands bill, making good on a four-year effort led by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington to formalize how UAS can fulfill that promise for incident commanders (ICs) and firefighters on the ground.

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