U.S. Forest Service tells East Texans not to fly drones over fir - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

U.S. Forest Service tells East Texans not to fly drones over fires

Source: U.S. Forest Service Source: U.S. Forest Service
Source: KTRE Staff Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff Source: KTRE Staff

The U.S. Forest Service is reminding people that while it is tempting to fly a drone over a wildfire as a way to get dramatic footage, it is also illegal.

As controlled-burn season gets under way, the federal agency is reminding people that flying an unmanned aircraft over a fire in wooded area without permission is against federal regulation 43 CFR 9212.1 (f), which states it is illegal to resist or interfere with efforts of firefighters to extinguish fires.

If violated, a person could face serious fines and a possible court appearance.

"It's something that we are really concerned for," said Fire Management Service's Jamie Sowell. "It is just a matter of time we feel like where we will have some situation where we run into drones. They are getting a lot more popular and a lot more affordable."

Over the past few years, the Interior Department claimed incidents with drones flying over wildfires have increased including one man being arrested in California in 2015.

One of the main issues is when a drone is spotted over a fire, air assets are grounded that play a vital role in fighting fires.

"With the aviation assets we are using, a drone strike in the air could have some catastrophic outcome," Sowell said. "The risk of sharing airspace with a drone or any other object up there is not worth it."

While drones are much smaller than the aircraft, damage done by the drone can be deadly.

"A lot of them are flying at low altitudes over the tree tops and with the smoke and all visibility is limited for our guys and it is not safe," Sowell said. "Many of the fires are in wooded areas with not a lot of roads, so it is already heard to get in them. If we have an aircraft go down, we have to battle through the woods to find it and those woods are on fire."

The crews on the ground are not naive, they understand technology is evolving and admit drones can get amazing video of natural disasters but the danger is real.

"It might seem cool, and it seems like a harmless thing to do, but it could have an adverse outcome for us," Sowell said.

For more information on efforts by the U.S. Forest Service's efforts against drones, click here.

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