Reminder to keep drones away from wildfires

Grand Rapids, Minn., April 11, 2023 –Warming temperatures and longer daylight hours indicate spring wildfire activity is soon to follow. On average, more than 500 wildfires are recorded throughout Minnesota between April and May. Putting out a wildfire is dangerous work. The Minnesota Interagency Fire Center reminds everyone that using drones in a fire area endangers the lives of pilots and firefighters.

“Much like last year, we are seeing a delayed start to spring wildfire activity with the amount of snow still covering the ground,” said Leanne Langeberg, Public Information Officer with the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. “Once the snowpack melts, wildfire activity, influenced by warmer, dryer weather, is expected to pick up. We experienced similar conditions last year, and by early May, aircraft were responding to active wildfires throughout Central Minnesota.”

Thick, heavy wildfire smoke significantly impairs first responder visibility, and unauthorized drones become unwelcome distractions in an already hectic environment. Yet drones continue to pop up unannounced on wildfires throughout the United States. Last year alone, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported 22 drone encounters on wildfires.

“Minnesota was fortunate not to be involved in the 22 reported encounters last year,” said Langeberg. “Keeping drones away from any wildfire reduces unnecessary risk and helps our firefighters to focus on doing their job safely.”

The last known drone encounter on a wildfire in Minnesota occurred in May of 2021. When a drone is spotted near a wildfire, all responding aircraft must land or return to the airport until the airspace is clear, lengthening the time it takes to slow down a rapidly moving wildfire. Minnesota law prohibits interfering with a firefighter in their official duties, including unauthorized drones that delay or restrict responding aircraft. While drones have incredible capabilities, using drones to capture photos and video during an active wildfire is not worth the risk to pilots, firefighters, and even community members in the path of an active wildfire. Remember, when you fly, we can’t. Please, keep drones away from wildfires.

Helicopter drops water from a bucket over a grass field.
Wildfire response in Minnesota commonly involves water-dropping aircraft like this helicopter to cool and slow an active wildfire. Keeping drones away from wildfires means one less distraction for firefighters. Photo credit: Minnesota Incident Command System