The Bureau of Land Management has issued a warning to operators of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, (UASs) better known as drones: their aircraft are not welcome around or above wildfires.
BLM Fire Management Officer Shane McDonald said the big concern is that a drone could have a midair collision with an air tanker, helicopter or other aircraft fighting a wildfire. He said there have been four instances so far this year of drones flying over or near a wildfire without apthorization.
We understand the interest of UAS pilots in obtaining video and other data by flying near wildfires,” he said. “It would be an awful tragedy if a UAS pilot were to cause an accident that resulted in serious injuries or deaths of firefighters.”
To avoid problems, he said fire managers might have to suspend aerial wildfire suppression until the drone is gone, which could allow the fire to grow larger and out of control.
McDonald also said all drones and even remote control aircraft used by hobbyists are subject to Temporary Flight Restrictions issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. TFRs are typically issued to keep all aircraft away form wildfires.
He said if a drone is determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts, the operator could be subject to civil penalties or even criminal prosecution.