FLYING DRONES NEAR WILDFIRES IS ILLEGAL AND DANGEROUS

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Source: Cal Fire and San Diego Sheriff

June 18, 2021 (San Diego) -- As we enter our summer fire season, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) are reminding the public, it is against the law to fly a drone near or over a wildfire. Firefighting aircraft could be grounded, disrupting critical fire operations. Time is of the essence. 

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If You Fly, We Can't, officials warn

Flying a drone over or near a wildfire is dangerous and can cost lives. 

During a wildfire, crews rely heavily on helicopters, planes and other large aircraft to deliver gallons of water or fire retardant to a burn site. Aircraft fly very low and come in quickly. Air crews maintain radio communication with each other to coordinate efforts and fly safely.  

Flying over a wildfire isn't easy. Pilots navigate smoky, windy, turbulent conditions with little visibility while focusing their efforts on extinguishing the flames. Drones and firefighting aircraft fly in the same airspace about 200 feet above the ground. Drones are hard to spot and there is no way to communicate with their pilots. Drones are a hazard because they can be sucked into the rotors of a helicopter or get into an engine of an aircraft or strike the propeller of a heli-tanker. 

The safety of air and ground personnel, as well as resources comes first. When a drone shows up in a restricted airspace, all aircraft responding to the fire operation are required to land until the airspace is clear to avoid a midair collision. That valuable time could be used to slow down and suppress the spread of a wildfire. Delaying airborne response poses a threat to firefighters on the ground, residents, property and nearby communities. 

Members of the media should also avoid flying drones and helicopters near wildfires and never interfere with firefighting operations. 

Know the Rules 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implements a temporary flight restriction around wildfires to protect aircraft involved in firefighting operations. Any drone pilot found guilty of recklessly interfering with firefighting or other emergency response operations could face up to a year in prison.  On top of the criminal prosecution, fines can reach up to $20,000 per violation. The FAA can also suspend or revoke your drone pilot license. It is also against state law to interfere with the activities of first responders during an emergency.