CAL FIRE Issues Urgent Warning Regarding Incursions of Unmanned Aircraft Systems
The state fire agency has issued an urgent warning regarding the incursion of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into firefighting airspace. These incursions have raised serious concerns and led to the suspension of critical aerial
firefighting operations on a half-dozen incidents so far this year.
The FAA regularly establishes Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) around wildfire areas to protect the safety of pilots and other aircraft crews working in firefighting operations. All aircraft, including drones, are explicitly prohibited from entering these restricted areas unless they are operated by an agency directly involved in the wildfire suppression efforts. Even when a TFR is not in effect, drone pilots are warned to avoid flying near wildfires — it is considered a crime to interfere with firefighting operations.
“The danger of flying drones near wildfires cannot be overstated,” said Chief Jake Sjolund, Staff Chief Tactical Air Operations. “Such actions jeopardize lives and have immediate consequences for firefighting agencies’ response efforts.”
When drones are detected near wildfires, fire response agencies will ground their own firefighting aircraft to mitigate the risk of a collision. This delay in airborne response on a fire threatens the safety of firefighters on the ground, residents, and properties in nearby communities.
Anyone who operates a drone without authorization near a wildfire can be found in violation of federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and ordinances — regardless of whether a TFR is in place. Anyone who interferes with wildfire suppression efforts with a drone can face severe consequences, including civil penalties of up to $20,000 and even criminal prosecution.