Firefighters and aviation managers are asking for the public’s help to prevent drones from interfering with wildfire suppression efforts this year.
The use of any Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), or drone, may be restricted within five miles of a wildland fire due to Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR). Even without a TFR, drones pose an extremely dangerous risk to aircraft, a release said.
“While most drone pilots know the regulations and the importance of not flying near wildfires, drone incursions continue to happen in Minnesota,” Leanne Langeberg, public information officer with the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, said in the release. “One incursion is too many. We can’t risk the distraction. When you fly, we can’t.”
Minnesota’s wildland fire management agencies have reported more than 500 wildland fires throughout the state that have burned nearly 20,000 acres since the beginning of March.
As snowpack has receded, wildfire activity has been most notable in grasses and marshland, with forested areas also a concern in northwest Minnesota.
Aircraft provide critical support to the firefighters by dropping water or fire retardant to slow a fast-moving wildfire. It’s not uncommon to have up to 40 aircraft responding to active wildfires throughout the state during high fire periods in Minnesota, the release said.
Often, wildfires can have three or more aircraft sharing the same low-level airspace that drones typically fly. In fast-moving and smoke-filled conditions, pilots need to be focused on their efforts to extinguish the flames.
While drones may have incredible capabilities, using drones to capture photos and video during a wildfire is not worth the risk to firefighters or the public.
“The safety of air and ground resources always comes first, and when a drone shows up in restricted wildfire airspace, all aircraft responding to that wildfire are required to land or return to base until the air space is clear,” Langeberg said. “That’s valuable time that could be used to slow down and suppress the spread of a wildfire.”