Fighting Fire with Fire. A Potential Solution to Keeping Wildfires at Bay

The fires started last week in California have had a devastating impact on the state. Since the dawn of man, fire has been essential to survival but since then, no effective way of combatting out of control fires has been developed. Now, researchers are looking for other alternatives to combat wildfire.

Source: LATimes

Fighting fire with fire is a pretty common phrase, and also one of the most effective ways to manage wildfires.  Similar to a scene from Game of Thrones, fireballs (or dragon eggs), can drop from the sky to burn the ground below.  Precisely aiming these fireballs to create burned areas helps fight an existing, spreading fire.

By utilizing these controlled burns, or prescribed burns, fire risk is greatly reduced. These zones are already vulnerable to fire due to dry or over populated vegetation. These selectively scorched areas act as a buffer to prevent fires from spreading because the fuel is destroyed in a controlled burn.  Additionally, prescribed burns allow a controlled way of ridding a habitat of invasive species that can kill native plants, and add to the dead brush that’s a natural fuel for fires.

Dragon eggs” play a part in creating a safe, cost effective environment for controlled burns.  These “eggs” were designed by a team at the University of Nebraska to be self igniting fire balls that are dropped remotely by drones.  The team saw a need for this device to replace starting burns by hand or dropping similar devices from helicopters. Using unmanned aerial services (UAS) takes out  danger and expense factors.

One of the creators, Dirac Twidell, wanted to find a way to decrease the advancement of trees and shrubs in the great plains grassland.  Fires in the past weren’t fully effective in destroying the vegetation’s deep roots.  By creating more extreme fire, and a precise, safe way of deploying it, Twidell is giving the native grassland a better chance.


Twidell and team displaying their drone and fireballs used to create prescribed burns

The drones operate by dropping ping pong ball sized “dragon eggs.”  Before the ball is dropped it gets an alcohol injection to start a chemical reaction that will cause the ball to ignite.  This innovative technique for fire management allows a way to not only create a buffer zone, but also can monitor the fires.

The need for fire management is growing concern.  A professor at Colorado State University, Doug Rideout stated, “Due to climate change and other factors, fire seasons tend to be longer and they tend to be drier.” These fires consume everything in their path and are fueled by weather, dry brush, and wind.  The 100,000 wildfires that occur in the US yearly destroy many habitats, homes, and take lives.  The smoke created from these fires can also act as a danger to surrounding areas.



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