Tags: drones | wildfires | hobbyists | airspace

Drones, Wildfires Don't Mix as Hobbyists Invade Restricted Airspace

By    |   Monday, 18 August 2014 10:56 AM

Hobby drones flying near wildfires are a dangerous impediment to fighting blazes, wildfire managers are saying.

USA Today reported that after a third incident where a drone flew into restricted airspace reserved for helicopters and other aerial firefighting units, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise decided to speak out.

"We're seeing an increase in people wanting to film from a distance with hobby aircraft," spokesman Mike Ferris told The Associated Press. He cautioned against flying drones near wildfires, saying they compromise the safety of the human pilots fighting the fire. "If you had one of these would you fly it near an airport?" he asked.

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The most recent incident of an unmanned craft compromising airspace safety occurred during Northern California's Sand Fire in late July. A drone flying near the Sand Fire nearly caused other piloted craft to initiate an emergency landing protocol.

"They were in the preparation process of getting ready to shut down aircraft," said Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE. "They actually located the drone and were able to mitigate the problem."

Mike Ferris, public information officer with the U.S. Forest Service, put it simply: "[T]he potential for an accident exists."

He continued, saying, "Our intent here is to help with education and awareness that if you have a fire somewhere outside your community or near your community, the last thing we really need is for you to go out and get your hobby airplane out and try and fly it around the fire."

Other similar drone incidents occurred in early June and late July, at Oregon's Two Bulls Fire and Washington's Carlton Complex Fire, respectively.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all model aircraft and hobby drones fly under 400 feet, and stay within the sight of the operator at all times. Needless to say, standing within eyeshot of a raging wildfire is a bad idea, and, moreover, wildfires usually have attendant temporary flight restrictions, making it illegal to fly drones near big blazes.

"[Drones] are neat, and they're becoming very popular. They're great, and it's fun to watch what people do with them," said Tolmachoff. "Yet there certain situations in which they should absolutely not use them, and this is one of them."

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Hobby drones flying near wildfires are a dangerous impediment to fighting blazes, wildfire managers are saying.
drones, wildfires, hobbyists, airspace
Monday, 18 August 2014 10:56 AM
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