A few years ago, the market for consumer drones exploded. Each wildfire season since then, officials have been trying to educate the public in the law. People fly the small unmanned devices over fires to get up-close footage and photos, often not knowing the practice is illegal.
In 2016, there were more than 40 known instances of drones flying across the country. Two times the unmanned devices halted work on the destructive Pioneer Fire near Idaho City.
“So when firefighters do notice someone’s flying a drone in the area, they have to shut down all aircraft that’s over the fire," says Jessica Gardetto with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. "In a lot of cases that can mean that the fire will actually grow larger while they’re trying to determine whether or not that drone is still in the area.”
Gardetto says the problem could turn into a life or death scenario for wildfire pilots and firefighters on the ground. She says thankfully – no pilots have been hurt or killed due to a collision with a drone – but it remains a big concern.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t have an actual collision, and that hopefully people get this message and stop flying their drones near fires."
Gardetto says people who want to use their drones should first check this website to see if there's a wildfire nearby.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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