Unauthorized drone disrupts fire response at Split Rock Lighthouse

March 14, 2024

Grand Rapids, Minn., – Drones continue to show up unannounced on Minnesota wildfires. Firefighters responding to a small fire on Tuesday, near Split Rock Lighthouse along the north shore, confirmed the latest unauthorized drone encounter. The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center reminds everyone that unauthorized use of drones within the vicinity of a wildfire is prohibited.

Firefighters with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a DNR helicopter responded to the small one-acre wildfire at Split Rock Lighthouse. While the helicopter landed to refuel, DNR firefighters spotted an unauthorized drone where they were working. The DNR helicopter remained grounded until firefighters confirmed the drone had landed, and then the helicopter returned to base.

“We are fortunate this time the drone was spotted before it collided with the helicopter,” said Darren Neuman, Aviation Manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Drone incursions are completely avoidable safety hazards that threaten the lives of everyone responding to the fire and nearby.”

Firefighters face incredibly dangerous conditions. Smoke-filled air greatly limits the visibility of all firefighters, including pilots flying the aircraft. Unauthorized drones are unnecessary distractions in this hectic environment.

“It’s simple, federal regulations prohibit the use of drones above wildfires,” said Neuman. “When they fly, we can’t.”

Minnesota law prohibits interfering with a firefighter in their official duties, including unauthorized drones that delay or restrict responding aircraft.  When a drone is spotted near a wildfire, all responding aircraft are required to land or return to the airport until the airspace is clear, delaying critical firefighting efforts.

Firefighters have confirmed the one-acre wildfire at Split Rock Lighthouse is fully contained. Wildfire activity throughout Minnesota has steadily climbed since mid-February as dry conditions persist.  Aircraft are a vital tool that helps keep fires small and manageable. From the moment a wildfire starts, until it is out cold, Minnesotans should expect aircraft are on the way or already responding. For the safety of all firefighters, steer drones clear from all wildfires.

Media Contact: Leanne Langeberg – email mnmncc_information, or call 218-322-2739