Federal, state and local wildfire managers are urging the public not to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) within or near wildfires in order to ensure firefighter safety and the effectiveness of suppression operations, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
The NIFC says that after drones flown by members of the public were detected in fire areas on June 24 and 25 in Southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest, airtanker operations needed to be suspended.
“If a UAS is detected flying over or near a wildfire, we will stop airtankers from dropping fire retardant, helicopters from dropping water and other aerial firefighting aircraft from performing wildfire suppression missions until we can confirm that the UAS has left the area and we are confident it won’t return,” says Steve Gage, U.S. Forest Service representative on the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at the NIFC in Boise, Idaho.
“Unfortunately, this could decrease the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations – allowing wildfires to grow larger and, in some cases, unduly threaten lives and property, but firefighter and public safety are our top priorities in wildfire management,” he adds.
The NIFC adds that members of the public should not fly UAS over or near wildfires even if a temporary flight restriction is not in place. Individuals who are determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts may be subject to civil penalties and potentially criminal prosecution, the agency says.