The nation’s logistical and support center for wildland firefighting is wondering what part of “keep your drones away from wildfires” people don’t understand.
An increasingly exasperated National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) said Thursday that air operations aimed at tackling wildfires have been suspended four times this year after quadcopters were spotted flying nearby. In all, drones have been seen flying over 12 wildfires on the West Coast in the last six months, the NIFC confirmed.
Although we’re yet to find out the precise effect of a quadcopter coming into contact with a much larger manned aircraft, the agency understandably doesn’t want to be the first to find out. As a result, whenever its pilots spot a remotely controlled aircraft nearby, they’re told to return to base, action that gives the fires more time to spread.
It’s not certain why the drones are there, though of course it seems likely that owners are trying to score some dramatic aerial shots of the blaze.
— Forest Service_NIFC (@FSNIFC) June 30, 2016
Sadly, repeated warnings from the NIFC, as well as from concerned fire chiefs, are continuing to fall on deaf ears, with drones forcing the authorities to halt water drops until the airspace is confirmed clear.
As noted by Inverse, the incidents are deemed so serious that last year San Bernardino County, between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, offered a $75,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the reckless drone operators. Legislation has also been proposed that would allow the authorities to knock a drone out of the sky if it’s hampering emergency response efforts, and to jail the owner for up to five years.
At the current time, around twelve wildfires are burning in California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico, so the NIFC is desperate for its message to be taken seriously so it can tackle the blazes without interruption.
NIFC spokesperson Jessica Gardetto warned that flying a drone near a helicopter or air tanker could cause a fatal crash.
“We understand people are curious, but flying a drone near a wildfire is just not worth the risk – you’re risking the lives of firefighters and the lives of pilots,” Gardetto said.