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Serious Concerns Raised Over Drones Flying Near Active Fires In Forest

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Sonora, CA — CAL Fire has issued an urgent warning regarding the incursion of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones into the firefighting airspace.

“These incursions have raised serious concerns as they have led to the temporary suspension of critical aerial firefighting operations on a half-dozen incidents so far this year,” stated CAL Fire.

During wildfire suppression efforts, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regularly implements temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) around wildfire areas to protect the safety of aircraft battling the blaze. During these fire suppression efforts, all aircraft, including drones, “are explicitly prohibited from entering these restricted areas unless they are operated by an agency directly involved in wildfire suppression efforts,” advises CAL Fire.

Even when not in effect in a temporarily restricted fly zone, CAL Fire strongly urges drone pilots to avoid flying near wildfires, as it is considered a crime to interfere with firefighting operations.

“The danger of flying drones near wildfires cannot be overstated,” said Chief Jake Sjolund, Staff Chief of Tactical Air Operations. “Such actions jeopardize lives and have immediate consequences for firefighting agencies’ response efforts.”

The problem is that when drones are detected near wildfires, fire response agencies must ground their aircraft to mitigate the risk of a midair collision. This delay can pose a significant threat to the safety of firefighters on the ground, residents, and properties in nearby communities, according to CAL Fire. They also add that it can allow wildfires to expand, putting more lives and resources at risk.

Those found, regardless of whether a restriction is in place or not, and who are determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts and/or endangered manned aircraft or people on the ground with a drone, may face severe consequences, including civil penalties of up to $20,000 and potential criminal prosecution.