FAA warning about drones and wildfires
Drones interfere with aerial fire suppression efforts
by Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office media release
June 30, 2016
ROCK SPRINGS) On behalf of Sweetwater County Fire Warden Mike Bournazian, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office is circulating the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent email on the issue of flying drones near wildfires, which was sent out to all those with FAA-registered drones:
Keep Your Drone Away from Wildfires
There are lots of great places to fly your drones, but over or near a wildfire isn’t one of them. In fact, drone operators who interfere with wildfire suppression efforts are subject to civil penalties of up to $27,500 and possible criminal prosecution.
Here’s why it’s important: Aerial firefighting aircraft, such as airtankers and helicopters, fly at very low altitudes, just a couple hundred feet above the ground and in the same airspace as hobby and recreational drones. This creates the potential for mid-air collision that could seriously injure or kill wildland firefighters in the air or on the ground.
As a result of unlawful drone operations near fires this year, fire managers have temporarily grounded all firefighting aircraft on several occasions for safety reasons. Shutting down firefighting operations could cause wildfires to become larger and can threaten lives, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources.
The bottom line is: ‘If you fly, we can’t.’
Sweetwater County officials noted that wildland fires are not uncommon in Sweetwater County. In July of 2015, a wildland fire burned well over 2,000 acres in the upper Bitter Creek drainage south of Rock Springs. About 100 local and BLM firefighters and support personnel were engaged in its suppression.