Inspecting acre after acre of wild forests has long been an issue Chinese forestry police have been grappling with.
In the past, this job was done mainly by sending police officers deep into the forest, with little tech support and reliant on human labor to conduct routine safety patrols, stop travelers carrying flammables and guard against sparks turning into wildfires.
Lately their life is made easier by the increasing adoption of high-tech gadgets like drones to help with forestry inspection and fire prevention.
One of the beneficiaries are a police squad in the environs of Guangzhou, capital of southern China’s Guangdong Province.
Local media reported recently that a forestry police station governing a total of 24,300 mu (16.2 square km) of wooded area has been using drones to carry out patrols.
According to the story, police officers removed the drone from a backpack, planned routes, sent the device up in the air, flew it in designated areas and had it beam back aerial images and video footage of the forest.
The use of drone to assist in law enforcement has been on the rise with the approaching Tomb Sweeping Festival, which falls on April 5 every year and is an occasion for Chinese people to pay homage to deceased relatives.
This is also a time of higher risks of campfires that are often ignited by sparks from burning incense and joss paper.
Guangzhou police said they are on higher alert around this time of year to perform more frequent inspections and are thus often stretched too thin.
The forested land under their jurisdiction is also home to several scenic spots that attract tourists and sightseers.
This has kept forestry police, fire brigades and rescue operators on their toes, under constant pressure to respond to emergencies.
“In the past, the weeks leading up to Tomb Sweeping Festival were usually the most hectic. Our entire police team were out in full force and wore out countless shoes and socks, but were still unable to cover the whole area,” said a police officer on condition of anonymity.
“Now with infrared camera-mounted drones, we can rapidly and accurately identify sources of heat and shout commands to stop illegal uses of fire out in the field.”
Previously, it was tricky for forestry police to track and stop inflammable-carrying travelers who put forests at risk of catching fire.
Drones surveying high-risk areas can spot and eliminate fire hazards in a timely manner, while also coordinating and making use of imagery transmitted in real-time in a more efficient way, media reported.
The collected images and data will then be processed and archived for future use, the police squad said, adding this will lay solid groundwork for aggregating information to aid law enforcement.
The Guangzhou police station explained that drones in the air can function as a mobile policing platform, which addresses multiple pain points encountered over the course of performing law enforcement, meeting diversified needs for complicated on-the-ground police work.
Across China, drones are increasingly deployed to conduct forest inspection, especially to inaccessible, remote corners of the country.