Twain Harte Fire Department Chief Todd McNeal was convinced of the safety capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, while the South Fork Fire raged outside of Wawona in 2017.

The area within Yosemite National Park was littered with dead or dying trees, making it dangerous for crews to patrol active fire lines for spot fires outside. So, command sent in drones instead. Twice the drones located the spot fires and limited numbers of hot shot crews were required to be sent in to extinguish them, McNeal said. 

“It's not until you finally do it on an incident that convinced me you need to go down this road,” McNeal said. 

The Twain Harte Fire Department’s newest drone — its fourth — is one-of-a-kind among Tuolumne County fire stations, a $19,500 eye-in-the-sky that can see through smoke, read temperatures on the ground and travel more than 25 miles per hour. 

It went into service Monday and has yet to be used in a crisis situation, but McNeal said, “the ability to improve responder safety is immeasurable.” 

“It is the newest, latest technology and it has the most capability. We’ve had the other aircraft for a couple years,” McNeal said.


Read more about the Twain Harte drone in Thursday's Union Democrat.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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