Drones dropping “Dragon Eggs” are Colorado’s latest aerial assault weapon for wildfires
GLENWOOD CANYON — Flames erupt on the hillside as plumes of smoke billow into the hazy sky above the Colorado River.
“It’s beautiful right now. This is a really good burn going right now,” says John Kennedy, the director of one of three branches of firefighters battling the Grizzly Creek wildfire.
Kelly Boyd, standing next to Kennedy on a bluff overlooking the blazing basin, smiles. He started that fire.
Boyd piloted a drone that dropped balls of fiery chemicals, called Dragon Eggs, that ignited the sprawling bowl of scrub oak, piñon and sage in what firefighters call a “burnout operation.” The flames crawled down the basin, charring dry timber and foliage along the southeast edge of the 32,000-acre Grizzly Creek fire. That burned barrier connected two other containment lines, creating a barrier on the fire’s southern edge that prevented it from spreading any farther south. By Wednesday, thanks in part to the burnout on that southern flank, firefighters were able to increase their containment of the wildfire to 61%.
Aerial ignition used to be done by helicopters that imprecisely dribbled those ping-pong ball-sized bombs onto fire lines. Now, as part of an increasingly progressive firefighting strategy honed by the Bureau of Land Management and adopted by the Forest Service and National Interagency Fire Center, drones are handling airborne firebombing and more.
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