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Drones could play bigger role in future wildfires

PHOENIX -- The FAA will pass new rules in 2015 and Congress would have to sign off on those rules that could open airspace to more unmanned drones and that could be invaluable when it comes to fighting wildfires.

KTAR wildfire expert Eric Neitzel said remote-controlled drones would be able to cut through the thickest smoke and give fire commanders a big jump on where wildfires are moving and where to put the manpower.

"It's not a firefighting air tanker that could drop water but it's an intelligence gathering tool," Neitzel said.

Neitzel said the unmanned aircraft has been used before in 2007-2008 to take a birds eye view of mammoth fires in California and Idaho. He was impressed.

"They covered a large area to map out the fires. They provided near real-time information that gave us a tool to better know where these fires were."

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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