BLM: Drone Pilots are Posing Problems for Wildland Firefighters


KIVI TV reports:

So far this year, there have been four reports of unauthorized drone flights over or near wildfires in the United States and Canada. Last year, there were at least twenty documented instances of unauthorized drone flights over or near wildfires in California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming and Washington, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Aerial firefighting operations in these states were temporarily shut down on at least twelve occasions and there were two cases of near misses with drones, BLM officials said.

As a result, federal, state, and local wildland fire agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration are reminding members of the public not to fly drones -– also known as “Unmanned Aircraft Systems” — over or near wildfires this season. Unauthorized UAS flights can potentially cause serious accidents and disrupt aerial firefighting operations.

“Fire agencies and the FAA caution that aerial intrusions like these can unduly threaten lives, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources. UAS interference may also stop firefighting operations and cause wildfires to become larger and more costly,” said BLM spokeswoman Jessica Gardetto.

“Firefighter and public safety are the top priority in wildfire management,” stated Dan Buckley, Chair of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. “If an unauthorized UAS is detected flying over or near a wildfire, we may have to ground all airtankers, helicopters, and other aerial firefighting aircraft until we can confirm that the UAS has left the area and we are confident it won’t be coming back, which could decrease the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations.”

Aerial firefighting aircraft — such as airtankers and helicopters — fly at very low altitudes, typically just a couple of hundred feet above the ground and in the same airspace as UAS aircraft flown by the public. This creates the potential for a mid-air collision that could seriously injure or kill aerial and/or ground firefighters, Gardetto said.

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Utah governor says drone hurt attack on wildfire

Associated Press reported Utah Gov. Gary Herbert saying it’s “completely unacceptable” that a drone flying near a southern Utah wildfire hampered firefighting efforts on Wednesday, June 22.

On the governor’s official Twitter account Wednesday, Herbert said evacuations “likely could have been avoided if drones hadn’t interrupted air attack on the fire.”

The small, unmanned aircraft have been spotted three times in the last four days and have forced authorities to ground firefighting aircraft.

The U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday that the blaze has torched more than a square mile and additional evacuations could come.

Officials say firefighting aircraft are particularly important for this wildfire burning in steep, rugged terrain.



Sources:  Associated Press, KIVI-TV, U.S Forrest Service, BLM

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