Forest Service says drones hamper firefighters

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ROLLA, Mo. - Mark Twain National Forest’s spring fire season is underway. Two incidents of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, operating near firefighting operations have occurred in the past week.

Neither UAS incident last week interrupted firefighting operations because air operations weren't yet underway. In one case, the person recording video of the forest near the fire didn’t realize a wildfire was underway at first, and stopped flying near the fire after speaking to firefighters. Neither incident resulted in a citation or charge.

“Flying a drone near a fire on Forest Service land puts the lives of our pilots and air crew at risk, so we are forced to ground aircraft; and our aircraft are vital to successful management of the fire,” said Fire Management Officer Jim Cornelius.

The Federal Aviation Administration says a temporary flight restriction (TFR) is often put in place around wildland fires to protect firefighting aircraft. No one other than the agencies involved in the firefighting effort can fly any manned or unmanned aircraft in such a TFR.

Anyone who violates a TFR and endangers the safety of manned aircraft could face civil and/or criminal penalties, which range from $1,000 to $25,000 in fines. Even if there is no TFR, operating a UAS could still pose a hazard to firefighting aircraft and would violate Federal Aviation Regulations.

The FAA has partnered with industry and the modeling community in a public outreach campaign called “Know Before You Fly.” To learn more about how to responsibly fly a UAS, go to www.knowbeforeyoufly.org.

The Forest Service asks you to keep your drone on the ground and let firefighters and aircraft do their jobs. If you see someone flying a drone near a fire on the Mark Twain National Forest, report it immediately to Missouri-Iowa Interagency Coordination Center toll-free at 866-800-8595.