NIFC: Don't fly drones near wildfires because it grounds their aircraft

Posted at 2:53 PM, Jul 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-17 20:04:19-04

BOISE, Idaho — So far this wildfire season there have been 12 incidents involving drones and wildfires and although there have not been any Idaho that is three more than at this time last year.

In total, there have been over 100 documented cases with drones interfering with wildfire operations and fires burning all over Idaho and the surrounding states it's important for people to not fly drones anywhere near a wildfire.

“Drones even though they are small and really lightweight can be deadly when it comes to intercepting with aircraft that are working over a wildfire," said Jessica Gardetto of the National Interagency Fire Center. "Aircraft typically flies at low elevation to help suppress wildfires."

If a drone gets spotted near a wildfire that forces NIFC and other agencies to ground their aircraft causing delays in containing a wildfire.

"So we have air tankers helicopters air attack planes and other aircraft flying over a fire at any given time," said Gardetto. "It’s also dangerous for firefighters on the ground that’s why we are asking people to be incredibly careful when you are flying your drone."

The popularity of drones continues to grow, according to data from the FAA there are now 870,853 registered drones in the United States, 354,063 are registered as commercial and 513,277 are registered as recreational.

As this technology becomes more affordable, easier to use and the life of drone batteries increases it means that this trend will likely continue, but there is also technology that can help pilots know whether they can fly in a certain area.

The B4UFLY app alerts pilots of flight restrictions and it will also let pilots know of temporary flight restrictions because of wildfires.

Flying a drone near a wildfire is a federal crime that can result in 12 months in prison and Congress has authorized the FAA to impose a civil penalty and that can be a fine of up to $20,000.

"We are at preparedness level 5 so that means we are seeing a lot of large wildfire activity across the landscape," said Gardetto.