Summary: Technology can help us in many ways, but when it comes to wildfire response, a resident’s use of a drone in a fire area can actually hinder efforts to control a wildfire. Plus, it is illegal and puts responding pilots and grounds crews at risk.
Every minute and second counts when responding to a wildfire and that’s why I want to remind the general public not to fly drones in an area of a wildfire so trained fire-fighting crews can do their jobs as quickly as possible.
If you fly, we can’t. It’s as simple as that.
Not only does operating drones in a wildfire area put fire-fighting crews and pilots at risk, it is also illegal with potential fines of up to $25,000 along with criminal prosecution.
The Federal Aviation Administration implements a temporary flight restriction around wildfires to protect aircraft engaged in firefighting operations.
Unfortunately, this happens more often than you might imagine.
The USDA Forest Service recorded 172 drone interactions that took place between 2015 and 2020. The actual number is believed to be much higher since there is no centralized reporting system.
Forest Service crews use a variety of tactics from the air and on the ground to contain and suppress wildfires.
Unauthorized drone flights hinder all of them.
Helicopters, planes and other aircraft that deliver hundreds of gallons of water and fire retardant to a burn site are already flying low, with minimal visibility and under smoky and windy conditions.
When drones and firefighting aircraft share the same airspace, the risk of a midair collision increases dramatically.
To avoid the threat of midair collisions, all aerial wildfire operations are suspended when a drone is present, which delays wildfire suppression response and allows the wildfire to grow larger.
The longer an uncontained wildfire burns, the greater the risk for loss of life to residents and firefighters, property and valuable resources and increased cost.
There’s also the possibility of a drone malfunctioning while in flight, only to fall onto responders or residents below.
Please let our crews do their jobs. Fire fighting is dangerous enough without these added concerns.
Help protect our Forest Service personnel and our woodlands.