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As wildfires continue to rage over the United States, firefighters are dealing with unauthorized drones flying over and around affected areas. Many helicopters and planes are being grounded as a consequence of this.

More than one hundred and twenty wildfires are raging across 1.6 million acres of the United States. The most important thing you should know, these emergency areas are automatically turned into no-fly zones for your drone. Do not fly your drone around any emergency where air traffic may be required to save a life.

What’s the issue flying over wildfires?

First and foremost, it’s illegal. But if we have to say more, the bottom line is that flying over active wildfires with your drone interferes with emergency services. Safety first is an important mantra for most all industries across the globe. It’s a good life approach too, but that’s not what we talk about here on Drone Rush. Keeping safety in mind, it matters not how little of a threat we perceive our drones to be to larger manned aircraft, our drone are aircraft, and no manned aircraft should be asked to fly in the same space as another craft.

Once a drone is up in the air near a wildfire, water bomber airplanes are diverted, and sometimes even made to land. The same goes for helicopters. These fire fighting and life saving aircraft are put to the side so that an illegally piloted drone may take some photos. Even if you have the best intentions and are trying to help, if you are not officially a part of the operation, you are getting in the way of the operation. 

Related reading: FAA’s No Drone Zone and other no-fly areas


Drone legal and safety

What are the consequences for the drone pilot?

Fines may exceed $20,000 and you could see jail time.

If you are caught flying around or over a wildfire the consequences are not minor. Firstly, you may receive a fine, which may exceed $20,000. Other variables will be take into consideration, such as damages caused by your drone, or because of your drone, and the downtime of any helicopters and airplanes that could have been putting out the fire. Truth is, you could see a jail sentence.

If you come across someone flying a drone in or around a wildfire, you are strongly recommended to contact local law enforcement immediately. We do not recommend that you approach the pilot yourself, but if you do, please do keep in mind that they are a pilot with an aircraft to land. Do not interfere with the pilot’s ability to fly safely. Helping get the drone out of the sky as quickly as possible may help save more land from burning down, and can even mean helping to save lives.

What can you do to fly safely?

The FAA has created an easy-to-use smartphone app called B4UFLY. This app allows drone users to check for normal flight restriction as well as Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR), which are added when a wildfire or large event is taking place. We’ll give you a nice big button to get the FAA app, but you may find the same TFRs in other popular drone apps

Wrap up

Do you think penalties for illegal or unauthorized flights should be more severe? Should jail time be standard? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or head over to our social media accounts.

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