With wildfire season underway in Arizona, photos and videos of flames and smoke begin to circulate on the Internet, but the safety of the person behind the camera, the firefighters and the nearby communities are put into question when drones are involved.
Wildfires are "No Drone Zones." Fire departments and incident management teams across Arizona are reminding people, "if you fly, we can't."
Currently, fire crews are fighting the 20,000-acre Goodwin Fire 14 miles south of Prescott. As firefighters work to get the upper hand on the moving fire, the Federal Aviation Administration is prohibiting aircrafts from flying in the area "to provide a safe environment for aerial firefighting operations", according to its website.
Several times this season, firefighter efforts have been delayed due to drones flying over fires.
When a drone is flying in the area, fire and incident management teams will ground their helicopters for safety precautions and, in doing so, are delayed in combating flames.
“If a UAS is detected flying over or near a wildfire, we will stop airtankers from dropping fire retardant, helicopters from dropping water and other aerial firefighting aircraft from performing wildfire suppression missions until we can confirm that the drone has left the area and we are confident it won’t return,” said U.S. Forest Service representative Steve Gage, on a U.S. Department of Agriculture press release.
Coconino National Forest Incident Commander, True Brown, recommends drone operators use the National Interagency Fire Center’s website to register an unmanned aircraft system, get information on the rules for flying in different scenarios and get up-to-date information on where firefighters are flying.
No Drone Zones can also be found using the FAA website.
Officials will search for the operators of drones flying in No Drone Zones, and criminal penalties including fines and imprisonment are applicable.
The FAA makes it clear that breaking these laws can include fines of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to three years.