While the public is normally free to fly drones on the National Forest when in compliance with FAA regulations and US Forest Service Special Use permit requirements, drones interfere with operations when flying within sight of fire suppression or prescribed fire operations. These intrusions result in serious threats to the safety of aerial and ground firefighting personnel.
Flying a drone near a wildfire is against the law.
“Most fire suppression efforts involve firefighting aircraft moving at low elevations. Bucket work and low level reconnaissance often occurs at tree top level. Since aircraft contact with a drone can result in death, all operations are shut down until drone operators are located,” said Nantahala District Ranger Mike Wilkins. “While shutting down firefighting aircraft results in safer operations for personnel, it might prove disastrous for the life and property fire fighters are trying to protect.”
Members of the public, news media, and film and video production companies should never fly drones or other aircraft over or near a wildfire. For more information, please contact Cathy Dowd, Public Affairs Officer for the National Forests of North Carolina, at firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Interagency Fire Center has prepared the following information to educate drone operators on the dangers of flying a drone near a wildfire.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), generally called drones, are gaining in popularity. Although drones are fun to fly, they can be deadly if flown near wildfires. Drones can interfere with wildland fire air traffic, such as air tankers, helicopters, and other firefighting aircraft that are necessary to suppress wildland fires. Aerial firefighting missions including aerial supervision, air tanker retardant drops, helicopter water drops, and smokejumper paracargo occur between ground level and 200 feet above ground level, which is the same altitude that many hobbyist drones fly.
Hobbyist drones and firefighting aircraft don’t mix. All authorized aircraft on an incident maintain radio communication with each other to safely coordinate their missions, but aerial firefighting flight crews have no way to communicate with drone operators. Aerial firefighting aircraft have no way to detect drones other than by seeing them, and visual detection is nearly impossible due to the small size of most drones. These factors make a mid-air collision with an unauthorized drone a distinct possibility.
If You Fly, Someone Could Die
Even a tiny drone can cause a serious or fatal accident if it collides with firefighting aircraft. In most situations, if drones are spotted near a wildfire, firefighting aircraft must land due to safety concerns. This prolongs firefighting operations; in many cases, wildfires become larger when aircraft are not able to drop fire retardant, water, monitor wildfires from above, or provide tactical information to firefighters. Homes and other values at risk could burn needlessly, firefighters or others could be injured, or worst of all, a fatal accident could occur.
Flying a Drone Near a Wildfire is Breaking the Law
Per the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 43 CFR 9212.1(f), it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire. Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance. So, be smart and just don’t fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire. No amount of video or photos are worth the consequences.
Please, don’t fly your drone near a wildfire!