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Friday, August 14, 2015

Forest Service Reminds Drone Operators to Steer Clear of Active Fire Responders

“If you fly, we can’t fly.”

The catchy phrase refers to a serious, emerging problem – that of interference from Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), often referred to as “drones,” with firefighting responders.

The U.S. Forest Service Northern Region urges individuals and organizations that fly UAS to
avoid areas with active wildfires to ensure the safety of firefighters and the effectiveness of wildfire
suppression operations.

“Firefighting aircraft have been held up from doing their job in other parts of the west due to
interference from drones,” said Leanne Marten, Regional Forester for the Northern Region. “With
our fire season in full swing, we don’t want anything keeping us from delivering a quick, safe
response.”

Unauthorized UAS flights over or near a wildfire could cause serious injury or death to firefighters on the ground. Unauthorized UAS could also be involved in midair collisions with airtankers, helicopters, and other aircraft engaged in fire suppression operations. Flights of
Unauthorized UAS within or near a wildfire could lead fire managers to suspend aerial wildfire suppression operations until the UAS has left the area and they are confident it won’t return. This could decrease the effectiveness of suppression operations, allowing the fire to grow larger and potentially threaten lives, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources.

Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) are typically put in place during wildfires that require aircraft, manned or unmanned, that are not involved in wildfire suppression operations to obtain permission from fire managers to enter specified airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration, U.S.
Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior and other wildland fire management agencies consider UAS, including those used by members of the public for hobby and recreation purposes, to be aircraft and subject to TFRs. Members of the public should not fly UAS over or near wildfires even if a TFR is not in place to prevent accidents and disruption of suppression operations.

“We aren’t aware of any situations in the Northern Region (north Idaho, Montana, North
Dakota, and northwest South Dakota) where drones have hampered firefighting efforts and we want
to keep it that way,” said Marten. “Firefighting aircraft typically fly at about the same, or lower,
altitude than hobbyists or recreationists fly UAS, often in smoky, windy, and turbulent conditions.
Safety depends on knowing what other aircraft and objects are operating in the airspace.”

UAS operations by individuals and organizations must be authorized by the FAA or comply
with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Section 336 of P.L. 112-95). Information is available
online at www.faa.gov/uas. Any unauthorized flying of aircraft within the TFR will be reported to
the FAA. Individuals who are determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts may be
subject to civil penalties and potentially criminal prosecution