The California National Guard has deployed an MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft to support firefighters in their effort to control the Rim Fire threatening Yosemite National Park. Based out of Victorville, Calif., the aircraft is expected to identify key locations of fire activity, where the fire has been controlled, how it moves, and avenues of safe retreat. The aircraft’s pilots are based out of March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and remain in contact with FAA air traffic controllers throughout flights lasting up to 22 hours. This isn’t the first time an unmanned vehicle has been used in the state to help crews combat a fire.
Other operations in 2007, 2008 and 2009 involved a range of aircraft including an Air Force drone.In 2007, NASA operated unmanned aircraft while responding to requests from California’s Office of Emergency Services and the National Interagency Fire Center. Flights included operation of an Air Force Global Hawk equipped with an infrared camera. NASA was again involved in wildfire-monitoring activities in Southern California in 2008 and 2009 to assess fire damage. Currently, nearly a dozen aircraft are deployed fighting fires in Northern California. Crews working the Rim Fire since Aug. 17 have completed more than 900 drops of water and fire retardant. California Air and Army National Guard are working together with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, with assistance from the U.S. Forest Service, working at least three fires in the state.