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Drones get approval for use in fighting British Columbia wildfires

Fire crews with BC Wildfire Services keep a controlled burn in check at the Sechelt forest fire on July 9, 2015.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Drones are about to be added to the fire fighting arsenal of the B.C. Wildfire Service.

Spokeswoman Erin Catherall says the service has conducted two seasons of trials and is ready to put the remotely controlled aircraft to work.

She says drones have already been an important part of the battle against recent wildfires in northeastern British Columbia because they are cheaper and safer than piloted aircraft.

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They can also be used at night, when most helicopters and planes are grounded.

Catherall says that allows firefighters to identify hot spots for immediate action as soon as the sun rises.

The wildfire service also hopes the little aircraft will help with the efficient deployment of planes and crews during critical situations.

"They're able to detect really hard to find hot spots and give co-ordinates that crews can then use to assist with locating and extinguishing the hot spots within the fire perimeter," says Catherall.

Unauthorized drones operated by curious onlookers complicated firefighting efforts at several B.C. wildfires last year because they forced wildfire service helicopters to land rather than risk mid-air collisions.

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