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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): John Craycroft; Callie J. Schweitzer
Publication Date: 2024

Background: For at least four decades, practitioners have recognized advantages of aerial versus ground ignition for maximizing the effectiveness of prescribed fires. For example, larger areas can be ignited in less time, or ignition energy may be variously targeted over an area in accordance with the uneven distribution of fuels. The maturation of wireless communication, geopositioning systems, and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has enhanced those advantages, and UAS approaches also provide further advantages relative to helicopter ignitions, such as reduced risk to human safety, lower operating costs, and higher operational flexibility. In a long running study at the Bankhead National Forest in northcentral Alabama, prescribed fire has been used for nearly 20 years. Most of the burns have been hand-ignited via drip torches, while some have been aerially ignited via helicopter. In March 2022, for the first time, a UAS was used to ignite prescribed fires across a landscape that included a long-term research stand. This field note relates comparisons of both fire behavior and fuel consumption metrics for the UAS-ignited burn versus previous burns on the same stand, and versus burns of other research stands in the same year.

Results: The UAS-ignited prescribed fire experienced burn effects similar to those from ground-ignited prescribed fires on the same stand in previous years, as well as those from ground-ignited prescribed fires on other stands in the same year.

Conclusion: This post hoc analysis suggests that UAS ignition approaches may be sufficient for achieving prescribed burn goals, thereby enabling practitioners to realize the advantages offered by that ignition mode.

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Citation: Craycroft, John; Schweitzer, Callie J. 2024. Case study of UAS ignition of prescribed fire in a mixedwood on the William B. Bankhead National Forest, Alabama. Fire Ecology 20:33.

Cataloging Information

  • aerial ignition
  • Alabama
  • fire management
  • fuel consumption
  • thermocouple probes
  • unmanned aerial system
  • William B. Bankhead National Forest
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 69172