As wildfire weather conditions are intensifying, Oklahoma Forestry Services is reminding operators of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to avoid flying near or over wildfires and putting fire-suppression aircraft at risk.
Due to wildfire conditions, Oklahoma Forestry Services currently has federal and Oklahoma Air National Guard aircraft, including single engine air tankers, the CL-415 Super Scooper, and helicopters directly assigned to wildland fire suppression in the state.
“Drone operators need to understand that when they are detected near a fire, the aircraft being used to suppress fire has to be diverted away from the area,” explains George Geissler, Oklahoma state forester. “Drones pose a threat to these low-flying aircraft and their pilots and increase the risk of lives and property loss on the ground.”
The issue is not limited to Oklahoma, says Oklahoma Forestry Services, which explains there were dozens of instances during the 2015 western U.S. fire season in which tankers were prevented from working fires due to drones in the area. However, Oklahoma has seen three instances in the last five months in which drones were detected at wildfires.
“Currently, drone use during wildland fire suppression is not advisable due to potential conflict with helicopters and tankers activity fighting the fires. We must always consider the safety of our firefighters and the public first,” says Stephen McKeever, Oklahoma’s secretary of science and technology.
The agency says it hopes to work with others across the state and nation to educate operators about the dangers associated with flying UAS around wildfires.