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U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio today asked federal officials what’s being done to deploy more unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to fight wildfires raging throughout Oregon and the West.

As Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. DeFazio last year authored legislation that directed the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of the Interior, and Department of Agriculture to expedite the safe use of UAS to support firefighting operations. The legislation was passed into law as part of the FAA Extension Act of 2016.

The letter from the two Oregon lawmakers seeking answers about using UAS as a firefighting tool comes in the wake of their meetings last weekend in Oregon with emergency responders battling wildfires around the state. Wildfires so far this year have ripped through more than 7.65 million acres in Oregon and the west. One-third of the 1.5 million acres now burning in the west are in Oregon.

“These tragic yet foreseeable events make it necessary to explore all ways to better fight wildfires,” Wyden and DeFazio wrote in their letter to Michael Huerta, Administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke. “Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) have the potential to help this effort significantly.”

Wyden and DeFazio noted that UAS have proven able to assess in real time the seriousness of wildfire damage, gather essential information for firefighters and first responders, and improve safety by identifying additional hazards as well as any infrastructure, property or wildlife in the path of a fast-moving fire.

Wyden and DeFazio asked the federal officials how their agencies are implementing the law aimed at improving the use of safe UAS operations in support of firefighting and speeding approval for UAS use to help first responders.

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