Drone's eye in the sky helps firefighters snuff out sulfur fire

- A mound of sulfur at the Port of Manatee has kept firefighters busy. Twice in the last 10 days, firefighters with the North River Fire District have been called to the mound at Logistec Gulf Coast Bulk.

The first fire claimed a dump truck driving around the edge of the sulfur mound. Wednesday night's fire destroyed a front-end loader.

Five people were taken to the hospital for respiratory problems.  They've since been released.

Chief Michael Rampino said it's not uncommon for smaller fires to break out at the sulfur mound, but he believes dryer conditions mixed along with higher temperatures, wind, and a lack of rain are causing these larger ones to break out.

"Provided it stays wet, it's not a problem. Once it catches fire it can become a nuisance," said the chief.

Logistec Gulf Coast Bulk told FOX 13 they are on a safety shutdown.

"They do have sprinkler systems that run around the pile, they have fire hoses that they use to flood the area as well as on an hourly basis they dump about 2,000 gallons of water around the loading dock area."

Sulfur fires are tricky to put out.   During the day, flames are barely visible and the fire can burn underneath out of eyesight. That's where a drone comes in handy.

"Last night, with the use of our thermal cameras, we were able to see the exact portions of what was all burning out there," said Captain Mike Blowski.

A drone operated by Southern Manatee Fire Rescue's Hazmat team captured a bird's-eye view of it. A thermal camera revealed hot spots and an air monitoring device kept track of the smoke plume.

"They can get a real-time reading of what the actual chemical hazard or the plume coming off of this what that actually tells us," explained Captain Blowski.

The new tool keeps responders out of unsafe conditions and cuts down on time spent fighting the fire.

"What we look at on the ground was six to eight hours of this product burning. Really turned into about four hours of operational work firefighting and that's all attributed to drone work," he added.

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