Aerial Firefighting Efforts Hampered by Drone Interference

California Connection
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SACRAMENTO -- U.S. Forestry, CalFire and the FAA joined to convey a common message to drone operators: don't fly in fire zones.

The year-old campaign to educate drone operators that they can endanger lives took on an added emphasis, because firefighters are battling a wild fire that has burned more than 2,500 acres near Forest Hill. The aerial firefighting attack was stalled early on just as the fire was growing.

"Aircraft were grounded, removed from the fire traffic area for more than 30 minutes. On Thursday, a second drone intrusion occurred on the Trailhead fire requiring the grounding of aircraft for nearly an hour," said Dave Teter, Deputy Director of Cal Fire.

U.S. Forest service Air Tactical Supervisor Mike Eaton has dodged drones while flying in fires in San Bernardino County. He said spotter planes and tankers scatter when the spot a drone because of the danger it poses to aircraft.

"It did affect the size of the fire and our abilities to put them out, just as they are on the Trailhead fire," Eaton said.

The FAA said over 500,000 drone operators have been registered since a new requirement took effect in January. New done owners are required to learn the rules of flight in fire zones.

FAA enforcement officer Scott Harris says there are not enough FAA personnel to enforce drone regulations and the "If You Fly, We Can't" education campaign is the best way to ensure that drones stay out of fire zones.

"There are way more drone operators and Unmanned Aircraft Systems equipment out there than there are FAA individuals so I think education the way to go," Harris said.

Fire officials acknowledge that a drone has never caused air accident involving fire fighting aircraft. But no one wants to take the chance.

"It's no drones over the fire zone, if they fly we can't, it's really as simple as that," Teter said.

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