Hummingbird drones helping fight fires in B.C. Interior

Four years ago, Robert Atwood was an initial attack firefighter and trying to find ways to improve firefighting. Now, as wildfires burn across the province in the worst season in six decades, Atwood’s dreams of drones fighting fires is being put to use

'You feel compelled to help out and really grateful to be involved,' says company co-founder

Robert Atwood, one of the founders of Hummingbird Drone, came up with the idea with firefighting in mind. (Hummingbird Drone/Facebook)

Four years ago, Robert Atwood was an initial attack firefighter and looking to find ways to improve firefighting.

Now, as wildfires burn across B.C. in the worst season in six decades, Atwood's business of drones fighting fires is proving indispensable.

He is one of the founders of Hummingbird Drones, a tool used to provide overnight infrared scanning and mapping to wildfire agencies.

"We are flying drones above the fire line, looking for hot spots and then taking that information and giving it to the fire crews the next day," Atwood told CBC Daybreak Kamloops guest host Doug Herbert.

The drones have infrared cameras attached and scan the ground, looking to pinpoint the locations of heat on the landscape. The data is then processed to create maps of the hot spots.   

The company, based in Kamloops, B.C., has also been deployed across the Cariboo region and in areas such as 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Princeton and Clearwater.

Robert Atwood and his co-founder Richard Sullivan of Hummingbird Drones, flying a drone at Freith Farm (Lincoln Smith)

Eyes in the sky

Atwood said the information Hummingbird Drones provides is vital for combating the fires — and keeping firefighters safer.

"We are increasing firefighting efficiency with more information and, ultimately, providing some increase in safety as well because by using drones you are decreasing the number of people flying," he said.

He knows the dangers of firefighting well from his own experience working as a wildlife firefighter and said he has spent the summer thinking about the challenges firefighters are facing.

"You feel compelled to help out and really grateful to be involved," he said.

Atwood and his co-partner Richard Sullivan were awarded Start Up Canada's Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2015 for their creation of Hummingbird Drones.

The drones are also used to provide information for search and rescue operations, emergency responders and the natural resource sector.

To listen to the full interview with ​Robert Atwood, click on the audio link below: 

 

With files from Daybreak Kamloops