Wildfires may be interesting to fly over for drone hobbyists, but they can pose a major threat to firefighting efforts.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 20 public drone incursions occurred in 2021, and 16 aerial firefighting efforts had to be shut down due to incursions with a drone. When firefighting aircrafts are forced to ground, wildfires grow in size, and efforts to extinguish them become much more difficult, threatening homes, lives, and natural resources. The most drone incursions happened in 2016, with 41 recorded drone incursions with firefighting aircrafts.
Not only does it affect firefighting efforts, but it can also affect aircrafts too. Most drones are relatively small and create a hazard of being sucked into helicopter rotors. Most fire-fighting aircrafts like air tankers, smokejumper Para-Cargo, and helicopters fly as low as about 150 feet above the ground. This is about the same altitude that hobbyist drones fly, causing the risk of flying into the optical path of piloted aircrafts.
Federal regulations for drones interfering with wildfire efforts on Bureau of Land Management land have several acts outlining the interference of wildfire efforts. Any violations of these regulations can result in fines and other penalties. If law enforcement deems the violation egregious, they can issue a violation notice with a mandatory appearance in court.
The critical thing to remember is that if you fly drones near wildfires, other aircrafts cannot. Keep drones at a safe distance away from wildfires to firefighting efforts can go uninterrupted. Click here to learn more about flying drones and when it is safe to do so.