Drones Causing Problems for Firefighters Fighting Forest Fires

In the past decade, drones have grown a lot in popularity mainly due to the increasing number of manufacturers making high-quality drones that are both affordable and easy to use. As a result, there are currently millions of drone owners all around the world. In most countries, anyone who can afford a drone is allowed to own and operate one after acquiring a simple and affordable license. Unfortunately, there has been plenty of cases where someone caused a safety hazard by flying their drone in a restricted airspace which recently happened again just last month.

Firefighting crews who had been battling the Bocco Fire in Colorado, which had consumed hundreds of acres had to stop their efforts after a civilian drone was flown into their airspace. Neither helicopters nor tankers could fly for over an hour while the firefighters waited for the civilian drone to leave the area. Speaking to Denver 7 ABC, Steve Hall, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management spokesman, emphasized on how big a distraction a drone could be to pilots flying aircraft under such conditions. If a fast moving aircraft had collided with the drone, the damage caused to the aircraft could have been a catastrophic, not to mention the safety implications for the pilot.

Unfortunately, there have been more than a few instances where civilian drones have stopped firefighting efforts in the past. In 2016, unauthorized civilian drones led firefighters to ground their aircraft more than 13 times, according to the US Forest Service. Fires have not been the only natural hazard attracting drone pilots. Last month, the FAA circulated an order warning drone pilots not to fly their drones near the Kilauea volcano that was erupting on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Ever since the invention of drones, governments have struggled to find the right balance of regulations for drone operators. Even if you can see a drone, it is almost impossible to know who is actually controlling it since it can be controlled remotely from miles away.  In Arizona, a man was charged with 14 counts of felony endangerment last summer for flying his drone near a wildfire, forcing firefighting aircraft out of the sky. A few months later, another drone pilot was arrested after flying his drone close to the wine country fires in California.

In some rare cases, drones have been the actual cause of a fire. In March, a drone pilot in Arizona lost control of his drone which crashed in the Coconino National Forest. The drone started a fire, which burned over 300 acres of land in a day. The drone pilot was charged with starting the wildfire, which carries a fine and may even result in jail time. But, as amazing as these images and videos may be for the drone operator to capture, the safety of civilians and emergency service workers has to come first.

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