Minnesota native helped fly unique drone over California wildfires

December 04, 2018 06:12 PM

11 people are still missing after wildfires ravaged parts of California.

More than 85 people have died in the country's deadliest wildfires in 100 years.


It took a lot of manpower to finally get the fires under control, and a Minnesota native played a unique role.

As firefighters battled the massive California camp fire from the ground, Minnesota native Ty Sibley helped man a high-tech drone in the air.

Called the Scan Eagle, the drone has a 10-and-a-half foot wingspan, it weighs up to 50 pounds when it starts and has to be catapulted into the air.

"We typically launch at sunset until sunrise. It's some long nights, but pretty rewarding work," said Sibley, Senior Pilot of Commercial Aviation with Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing.

The drone spent six days flying over the containment line of the camp fire, using infrared cameras to find hot spots.

Sibley says it's pretty remarkable technology that flies a mile above the line and can find hotspots the size of dinner plates.

A live video feed can then be sent from the drone directly to the cell phones of firefighters on the ground.

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"We can tell them right where to go to find a hotspot outside a containment line," Sibley said.

He said the reaction from firefighters has been great.

"Some of the firefighters, they are just amazed. They're telling us this is going to change how they fight wildfires now," he said.

First used by the military, the Scan Eagle drone is now being called on for more civilian missions.

"It's evolving so fast, really any natural disaster coming up, people are asking us for help," Sibley said.

The drone only flew at night over the camp fire, staying out of the way of other firefighting aircraft during the day, but Sibley says the goal is to eventually fly with everybody else.

"When you're a steward of this type of technology you just want to use it to be able to help people, and that's really what we're trying to do," he said. 

The drone is made by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing.

It is the same type of drone being used by militaries around the world.

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Jessica Miles

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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