More than 120 wildfires are burning across 1.6 million acres in the United States. Firefighters aren’t just struggling to battle these blazes, they’re also facing the dangers posed by unauthorized drone flights over or near the fires. Firefighters across the nation have repeatedly been forced to cease helicopter and airplane operations because the presence of drones prevented them from flying safely. In these circumstances, the minutes or hours of flight delay could mean lost lives and destroyed property.
Federal, state and local fire management agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) urge members of the public not to fly drones over or near wildfires. Unauthorized drone flights pose collision hazards to firefighting aircraft and can distract pilots who are operating in stressful and challenging conditions. A collision could cause serious injury or death to fire crews in the air, endanger firefighters and members of the public on the ground, and drastically limit the effectiveness of fire suppression efforts.
People who engage in this dangerous and irresponsible activity are violating federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations, regardless of whether a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is in place.
Fire agencies are reporting to the FAA and to law enforcement unauthorized drone flights near wildfires on federal, tribal, state and local lands. People who interfere with fire suppression efforts will face civil penalties that could exceed $20,000, as well as potential criminal prosecution.
Anyone who witnesses or has information about an unauthorized drone flight over or near a wildfire should immediately contact local law enforcement.
To keep drone pilots aware of flight restrictions, the FAA developed an easy-to-use smartphone app called B4UFLY. The app helps drone pilots determine whether restrictions or requirements are in effect at the location where they want to fly. B4UFLY is available for free download in the App Store for iOS and Google Play store for Android. But regardless of whether a TFR is in place, people should never fly drones near or over wildfires.