Federal officials are considering whether to use unmanned helicopters to fight massive wildfires in the west.

Top Interior Department and Forest Service leaders will travel next week to Idaho for an unmanned demonstration of the K-Max helicopter, built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Kaman Aerospace Corp.

{mosads}Using drones for firefighting could improve the safety and effectiveness of battling wildfires by removing pilots from the vehicles and having them controlled remotely, the agencies said.

“The Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service are constantly examining new technologies to improve the safety and effectiveness of wildland firefighters on the ground,” the agencies said.

“Aircraft have provided important support to firefighters for more than 80 years, but the challenges of safely operating during periods of reduced visibility and at night can preclude manned aircraft from supporting wildfire operations.”

The demonstration comes at an important time, when wildfires are growing rapidly in size and damage, along with the risks and costs of fighting them.

Three Forest Service firefighters were killed in a wildfire in August in Washington state, adding to the dozens of federal firefighters who have died in recent decades.

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