Drones & Wildfires: The Good, The Bad

by Alaska Fire PIOs

UAS – Unmanned Aerial Systems, or Drones – are a relatively new tool for wildland firefighters, providing fire managers and ground crews with real-time photos, videos, mapping capabilities and infrared imaging to detect heat signatures and spotfires.

Drones are also capable of igniting and dropping glycol-filled capsules resembling ping-pong balls, lighting ground fuels during burning operations, without the inherent risks of helicopter operations flying “low and slow” to accomplish the same tasks.

But unauthorized drones operated by private citizens pose extreme hazards around wildfires – to pilots, aircraft and firefighters alike. Even when a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is not in place over a wildfire, it is a federal crime to interfere with wildfire operations, with civil penalties up to $20,000. There were drone incursions at the Armstrong Fire in Houston and the Elmore Fire in East Anchorage this year. “If You Fly, We Can’t.” Please visit https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/FAA_drones_wildfires_toolkit.pdf for more information.