Thermal Drones to battle wildfires at Nagarahole
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Thermal Drones to battle wildfires at Nagarahole

January 22, 2020

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (drone) with real-time connectivity detects fires at early stage; alerts rescue teams

Mysuru / Hanagodu: Probably for the first time in the history of preventing forest fires in Mysuru, Hunsur and Kodagu regions, the Forest Department is using Thermal Drones to keep an eye on vast swathes of jungles of the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. 

Last year, thousands of acres of forests were reduced to ashes inside the core area of Bandipur Tiger Reserve and this incident has forced the Department to take corrective measures. 

In the West, drones have transformed fire-fighting operations and the unmanned aircraft technology is a game changer for fire crews. The automatic flight system (drones) with real-time connectivity is helping prevent large-scale forest fires by locating and detecting fires where and when they start and communicating this information to emergency services in real time.

Equipped with sensors, cameras

The Thermal Drone is equipped with sensors and both thermal and infrared optical cameras. When the thermal sensors and the cameras detect a fire — even a small fire can be detected — it sends an alert with the exact location of the fire. The drone hovers above the location, collects optical and thermal images and sends the information it collects to the emergency services centre in real time.

When the inferno began in Bandipur last year, the authorities failed to pin-point the exact location of the fire and as such the fire extinguishing and rescue teams could not rush to the spot immediately and by the time the teams reached, the damage was done. Learning lessons from this incident, the Department has adopted drone technology at Nagarahole this time. 

The system allows the emergency control centre to take control of the drone at any time to gather additional information and track the burned area. Drones provide a faster response and help deploy the team on the ground as safely and as quickly as possible, said forest officials who are in the know of things. 

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Nagarahole Tiger Reserve
A Thermal Drone flies over the entry gate of Nagarahole Tiger Reserve

Training to ground-level staff

The drones are attached to smart phone-like device and can be operated by officers and ground-level staff who are constantly in the field. Speaking to Star of Mysore, Nagarahole Project Tiger Director Narayanaswamy said that training has been provided to ground-level staff on operating the drones and mock drills have been conducted. One such training was provided at Forest Department’s Range Office in Veeranahosahalli recently. 

The demonstration and training was held using a Thermal Drone, methods of capturing photos, ways to send alerts to rescue teams, details about weather and viewing footages of the entire forest and also precautions to be taken during forest fires and methods used to extinguish fire was provided by the Fire and Emergency Services Department to the Forest staff.

The officials also demonstrated methods to escape from thick smoke which can suffocate a person to death. As part of the training, forest officials flew a Thermal Drone for a distance of four kilometres inside the forest and showed the staff live visuals at the training room. [see pic.]

2,677 kilometres of fire lines 

The Forest Department has created a total of 2,677 kilometres of fire lines inside the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve including 688 kilometres additional fire lines. From December to the end of March, the onus of protecting the forest lies on the Department.  

Investigations revealed that a few miscreants had intentionally lit fires at Bandipur last year displaying their perverse mindset. Also, after smoking, lit cigarettes and beedis are carelessly flung by motorists setting fire to weeds by the side of the roads. This fire gradually spreads into the jungles. To avoid such incidents, fire lines are created 

Nagarahole Tiger Reserve
Officers demonstrating the drone operation through a tab.

Nagarahole Forest area extended by 200 sq. km

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The Nagarahole Tiger Reserve (Rajiv Gandhi National Park), which was spread over 643 square kilometres earlier, is now spread over 843 sq. km after 200 sq. km buffer zones surrounding Periyapatna, Hunsur and Virajpet taluks were included.

The forest which has been divided into Nagarahole, Kallahalla, Anechowkur, Hunsur, Veeranahosahalli, Metikuppe, Antharasanthe and D.B. Kuppe ranges, come under Mysuru and Kodagu districts and is filled with exotic flora and fauna.

Last year, to prevent forest fires, 1,989.2 km of fire lines was created as the area of the forest has increased, an additional 688 kilometres fire lines including 2,677 km fire line at all eight zones has been created and the width of the fire lines have been increased in sensitive zones.

Forest staff takes up challenge

Forest officers are keeping a hawk’s eye vigil to prevent fire. Along with them are 300 temporary fire watchers, 108 department watchers and 135 permanent staff, who are on the ground. 

Temporary watchers from various tribal hamlets and villages bordering the Tiger Reserve are picked up daily in a Department vehicle and transported to their assigned places. Food is being provided to them and every watcher and guard is equipped with a mechanised sprayer and other fire extinguishing equipment. A total of eight fire extinguishing vehicles have been deployed with one vehicle each stationed at all the eight zones including Nagarahole, Veeranahosahalli and Antharasanthe Zones. In all, 39 Department vehicles are being used to conduct routine beats and also to supply food to the watchers.

Narayanaswamy said that necessary arrangements have been made to reach the spot of fire within 30 minutes. Water cans and other equipment have been provided to the staff. Steps have been taken to conduct regular beats in forest borders and any suspicious persons found near the forest borders are being closely monitored. 

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