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Supporting the Camp Fire Relief Efforts from Above

The story of a surprising ally in the fight to save lives during California’s most destructive wildfire: drones.

Greg Crutsinger of Scholar Farms gathers drone imagery from the front lines. Photo credit: Casey Tholburn

Drones Come to the Aid of Rescue Workers

Over three days, 16 teams of public safety professionals from an interstate agency task force of police, fire, and rescue personnel worked day and night to complete 500+ drone flights capturing 70,000+ images of the areas surrounding Paradise and Magalia. The result: close to 500GB of drone data which DroneDeploy turned into 26.5 square miles (15,000 acres) of high-res aerial maps is now accessible to state agencies and the public to assist in the recovery efforts. This data will be used to aid search and rescue operations, assist with the planning and response to potential mudslides, issue FEMA relief funds, and help process insurance claims faster so that wildfire victims can get back on their feet.

Coordinating the Largest UAV Task Force in History

Individuals from Menlo Park Fire Department, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Butte County Sheriff’s Office and others joined forces with UAV experts at DJI and Scholar Farms to collect the data. The images have since been transformed into maps that are highly accurate, geo-referenced, and overlaid with street names. These maps are critical tools in the recovery process, as neighborhoods are no longer recognizable. Street after street of burned buildings and trees now blend together, making it difficult to discern one block from the next.

Fire teams plan drone flights with DroneDeploy. Credit: Romeo Durscher

“We collectively decided to utilize DroneDeploy as the set-up of their flight grids is easy and can be done on a laptop and then shows up on the tablets used for flight.”

— Romeo Durscher, Dir. of Public Safety Integration at DJI

Read more here

Fire teams plan drone flights with DroneDeploy. Photo courtesy of Romeo Durscher
Click to view the full map.

Putting the Data to Work to Fast-Track Recovery Efforts

The maps are impressive, but we’re more impressed by how the teams on the ground have put them to use. With up-to-date visuals, fire teams are charting the damage, and planning next steps. Winter rains are now on the horizon, and the burnt foliage increases the risk of floods and impending mudslides, posing even more harm throughout the region. So the Butte County Sheriff’s Office is using the imagery to identify areas of concern and plan their response accordingly. The maps are even being used by search and rescue teams to spot any missing persons who may be in the area.

Providing a Helping Hand When it Matters Most

In times like these, it’s all about lending a helping hand. And we’re proud our team was able to help play a small role in response to the fires. We wish the remaining fire and rescue teams speed and safety in the recovery.

Where to Learn More

To learn more about the efforts on the ground, please check out the resources below:

  • Read Romeo Durscher’s (of DJI) write-up about the effort to manage teams on the ground and collect the data. His account provides a complete walkthrough of the operation and the challenges faced on the front lines.
  • Read Gregory Crutsinger’s write-up on Scholar Farms’ role on the ground in Paradise, CA, and how its team helped emergency response pros with drone data collection.



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DroneDeploy is the leading cloud software platform for commercial drones.