FAA Warns Drone Operators: Stay Away from Wildfires

If unauthorized drone operations interfere with wildfire suppression, law enforcement, or emergency response efforts, the drone operators could face civil penalties that exceed $20,000 and potential criminal prosecution.

The Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. wildland fire agencies are warning pilots of drones not to interfere with pesonnel who are fighting wildfires. When firefighting aircraft have to be grounded due to an unauthorized drone flight, there are serious risks not just to first responders, but also to anyone in the fire's path, they point out.

Authorized drone missions by the proper authorities can yield valuable information to firefighters by detecting hotspots, charting a fire's spread, and tracking progress in controlling a blaze. But when an unauthorized drone is spotted, they may have to stop all helicopter and airplane operations. Unauthorized drone flights create collision hazards for firefighting aircraft and can distract pilots who are operating in stressful and challenging conditions.

"If you own a drone, DO NOT fly near or over a wildfire," FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell said last week. "It's against the law, and firefighting aircraft could be grounded, disrupting time-critical firefighting efforts. Your hobby is not worth another person's life."

"Most members of the public would never dream of standing in front of a fire engine to stop it from getting to a wildfire, but that's essentially what they’re doing to aerial firefighting aircraft when they fly a drone over or near a wildfire," said Jennifer Jones, spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

According to FAA, if unauthorized drone operations interfere with wildfire suppression, law enforcement, or emergency response efforts, the drone operators could face civil penalties that exceed $20,000 and potential criminal prosecution.

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