March 30, 2020
The melting snow is a good indication that spring is on the horizon. For wildland firefighters in Minnesota, the snow melt also means we are one step closer to our busiest time of the year, the spring wildfire season. The months of April and May are usually the most active for wildfire in Minnesota. When fire activity picks up, so does the interest in one of today’s popular technologies – drones. Unfortunately, drones and the aircraft that are used to put out wildfires don’t mix.
The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center is reminding everyone that the use of any unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, near any wildfire is restricted. We are asking everyone to leave your drones at home this wildfire season for the safety of aircraft personnel, firefighters, and the public.
“Our planes and helicopters can’t do their job when a drone is in the area – for the safety of our pilots when a drone is spotted they have to land,” stated Darren Neuman, DNR wildfire aviation supervisor. “When our aircraft aren’t able to fly, they can’t help the firefighters on the ground, and it makes a difficult job more difficult.”
Since 2016 the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center has reported at least one drone interruption of the airspace above wildfires in Minnesota each year. “While most drone pilots know the importance of staying away from wildfires, there have been several drone encounters that have fully stopped our efforts to put out wildfires safely,” said Neuman. “When a drone is in the air near a wildfire, it’s extremely dangerous for our pilots and firefighters.”
The DNR and Minnesota Interagency Fire Center want to make sure that all of our firefighters and pilots make it home safe every night. That’s why we are asking the public to leave your drones at home whenever you see a wildfire. No photo or video is worth the risk to anyone’s safety.
While in the air, a pilot’s focus is on putting the fire out. Their job is to know where to drop water or fire retardant to help cool down the hot spots helping to put the fire out. It’s likely that a pilot will not ever see a drone until it is too late.
During high fire periods throughout Minnesota, it’s not uncommon for up to 40 aircraft to be standing by or working in the air to extinguish wildfires. If a drone is spotted over a wildfire, all firefighting from that airspace immediately stops until it is clear and deemed safe. The interruption in firefighting takes up valuable time and can cause wildfires to become larger and more expensive. It can also have a big impact on the people, property, and valuable natural resources that are threatened.
Let’s make this Minnesota wildfire season a no-drone season. You can do your part by leaving your drone at home.