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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) seen twice on Pioneer Fire; air operations threatened

BOISE, Idaho, July 28, 2016 -- Fire management officials are concerned that two drones have been reported in the vicinity of the Pioneer Fire, having the potential to disrupt aerial fire suppression operations.  

The first incident was reported on July 22, within the fire perimeter, and the second was spotted on July 26, in the heliport operational area near Idaho City. Although aircraft operations were not suspended, air operation officials say such situations could easily do that. 

“We cannot operate either helicopters or fixed wing air tankers if there are immediate reports of a drone in the fires proximity and we will immediately terminate operations until the area is cleared,” said Bill Hayes, Incident Management Team 3 Air Operations Branch Director.  “Pilots may not see a drone and if they strike one it could down an aircraft or significantly damage one.”

Hayes emphasized the serious nature of these intrusions, noting that on other fires with drone intrusions air operations were suspended, and even in one case shut down for an entire day.

“Air support is a critical part of fire suppression operations and if that is lost, the risk of a fire increasing in size, threatening firefighters or public property significantly increases” Hayes added. “There is no business for a drone to be anywhere near a fire incident.”

The drones were within a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) area which is put in place around wildfires to protect firefighting operations.  No one other than the agencies involved in the firefighting effort can fly any manned or unmanned aircraft in a TFR.  

If an operator endangers manned aircraft or people on the ground with an unmanned aircraft, they could be liable for a fine ranging from $1,000 to a maximum of $25,000. 

Hayes added that “if you fly, we can’t – keep your drone on the ground and let firefighters and aircraft do their jobs." 

For further information regarding drones in a fire suppression area, contact the National Interagency Fire Center at 208-387-5437. 

For information regarding air operations on the Pioneer Fire, call the Pioneer Fire Incident Command Post at 208-392-9634.