The Bureau of Land Management is warning against the unauthorized operation of unmanned aircraft systems, often referred to as “drones,” near wildfires. Flights of unauthorized drones can threaten the safety of both aerial and ground firefighters and hamper their ability to protect lives, property, and natural and cultural resources.
Temporary flight restrictions are typically put in place during wildfires that require most aircraft, manned or unmanned, other than those engaged in wildfire suppression operations, to obtain permission from fire managers to enter specified airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior and other wildland fire management agencies consider unmanned aircraft systems, including those used by hobbyists and recreationists, to be aircraft and therefore subject to restrictions.
This year, there have been at least two instances of unmanned aircraft systems being flown within or near a restricted wildfire zone without appropriate authorization. In both instances wildland fire aircraft had to be grounded because of safety.
Regardless of whether a temporary flight restriction is implemented, individuals and organizations are asked not fly unmanned aircraft systems over wildfires without permission from fire managers. Unauthorized flights could cause serious injury or death to firefighters on the ground. They could also have midair collisions with air tankers, helicopters, and other aircraft engaged in wildfire suppression missions.
“We understand the interest of UAS pilots in obtaining video and other data by flying near wildfires,” said Shane McDonald, BLM Fire Management officer. “It would be an awful tragedy if a UAS pilot were to cause an accident that resulted in serious injuries or deaths of firefighters.”
For more information, go to www. faa.gov/uas, or contact Shane Charley, fire and aviation lead, at 775-885-6182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.