BOISE, IDAHO – Twice this week in Southern California, drones owned by citizens disrupted wildfire operations by interfering with airtankers at the Sterling Fire and Lake Fire operations at San Bernardino National Forest. Local wildfire managers continue to urge the public not to fly Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or “drones,” near wildfires so firefighters can operate safely and effectively suppress the blaze.
“If a UAS is detected flying over or near a wildfire, we will stop airtankers from dropping fire retardant, helicopters from dropping water, and other aerial firefighting aircraft from performing wildfire suppression missions until we can confirm that the UAS has left the area and we are confident it won’t return,” said Steve Gage, U.S. Forest Service representative on the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. “Unfortunately, this could decrease the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations, allowing wildfires to grow larger, and in some cases, unduly threaten lives and property, but firefighter and public safety are our top priorities in wildfire management.”
Airtankers, helicopters and other aerial firefighting aircraft typically fly in the same range of altitudes that drones use, creating potential for mid-air collisions. Additionally, if a controller loses their communication link with the drone, further hazards may occur.
Temporary Flight Restrictions are typically put in place during wildfires that require any aircraft, including drones, not involved in wildfire suppression operations to obtain permission from fire managers to enter specified airspace. Individuals who have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts may be subject to civil penalties and potentially criminal prosecution.
Federal Aviation Administration guidance for members of the public flying UAS for hobby or recreation purposes is available online at http://www.faa.gov/uas/model_aircraft/