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How drones helped rebuild Paradise, California after devastating fires

Published by Josh Spires on 28 June, 2021

How drones helped rebuild Paradise, California after devastating fires

In November 2018, a devastating fire swept through Paradise, California burning much of the town and totalling at a huge 153,336 acres in total. The fire is known to be the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California's history.

As the people in the town were beginning their days some started to notice the smell of smoke in the air, with an official message being sent out not long after of a fire that was burning in the nearby community of Concow. Soon embers began to fill the sky of Paradise with no one too worried just yet.

A couple of minutes later larger pieces of debris started falling prompting many to start the evacuation process as a precaution. Those that didn't evacuate straight away were faced with a long five-hour drive through a literal firestorm to get to safety.


Crews were finally able to take full control over the fire and put it out on November 25th after non-stop work to prevent the fire from spreading any further and a miracle rainfall a few days earlier.

The fire was devastating, destroying 19,000 structures, killing eighty-five, and resulting in a total insurance claim of US$16.65 billion. A later investigation found that the fire was started due to a small electrical fire from a powerline.

DJI's drones fly in

One of those that was affected by the fire, Charles Brooks was able to contact Aaron Lambert, the Aerial Operations Manager at General Pacific, a major distributor of the bits and pieces, large and small, used by electrical and water utilities as well as contractors – everything from power poles to conduits to EV chargers to water meters.

Lambert was then able to pass the message onto DJI, specifically Romeo Durscher with the request of needing a single DJI Phantom 4 RTK. DJI replied to the request with not one but three P4 RTKs and a D-RTK 2 Mobile Station.

Soon after the real work began. In March of 2020, Lambert made a trip to Paradise to offer on-site training. General Pacific was onside and covered his costs. Though Lambert had a pretty good inkling of what he would find, nothing could really prepare him for the devastation.

That was a very humbling experience to see first-hand – even two years after. Some growth was starting to come back, but there was still so much barren ground. I was at a loss for words just listening to people and their stories. It’s hard to describe.

Aaron trained Charles and one of the Rebuild Paradise Foundation’s video production interns how to operate the Phantom 4 RTKs. The pair also hit the books and obtained their Part 107 licenses for commercial drone operation. Soon, they were doing maps. Aaron returned to his home base in Oregon but kept up the contact with Charles. Charles shared:

The greatest value was the updated imagery. So, keeping those folks in the office with updated imagery, where they don’t have to be out in the field – that’s saving them a tremendous amount of time and money… That’s our agreement with designers, is that any savings are passed along to the end-user.

Source: DJI

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