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Wildfires: A drone no-fly zone

by Michael Cousins | Jul 14, 2016
Do you own a drone? The unmanned aircraft can be a lot of fun to fly, but flying them near wildfires can cause trouble – for yourself, and for the firefighters risking their lives to protect you. Until a drone leaves the airspace, it forces fire fighting planes and helicopters to remain on the ground, and every second that goes by makes the fire harder to contain.

As wildfires spread across the country, incidents of drones delaying wildfire response are becoming increasingly common. Earlier this summer, in California, firefighting aerial vehicles in the El Dorado foothills had to wait on the ground twice for drones to clear the area. And just recently in Utah, five drone sightings continuously interrupted aerial operations on a wildfire. The US Forest Service says there have been 12 more incidents like these in 2016, up from only four for last year. 

Helicopters and planes dropping water and flame retardant tend to fly around 200 feet above the ground, which is the same range that drones usually fly in, hence the risk of crashes. And while official aircraft have radio communication with one another, there’s no way of communicating with the unmanned drones that are causing such problems.

The Federal Aviation Administration has responded, now fining people up to $27,500 in civil penalties and even potentially pressing criminal charges for flying drones near wildfires. They are also advising people to register their drones, so that when changes to drone regulations are made, such as the recent wildfire restrictions, drone owners are notified.

Drones are a great way to enjoy a different perspective and explore new heights. Just be sure to take the necessary precautions, stay aware of regulations, and be cognizant of official aircraft when you take to the sky.
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