Careless drone operators continue to hamper wildfire firefighting efforts across the United States this summer. Last week, a helicopter delivering water to the 150-acre Barth Fire in Caldwell County, Texas, almost collided with a drone that came within feet of an aircraft.

“Pilots have no way to detect a drone or know there is one present in the airspace until they see it,” said Jared Karns, Texas A&M Forest Service State Aviation Manager. “Suppression aircraft can respond to wildfires quickly, increasing the likelihood that a new ignition remains a small, manageable wildfire. Utilizing aircraft greatly enhances the state’s firefighting efforts, but they have to be able to fly in a safe environment.”

Washington state is encountering similar issues with drones near wildfires. In a recent social media post, the Washington Department of Natural Resources “X” account stated, “Can’t believe we have to say this, but: STOP FLYING DRONES NEAR WILDFIRES. DRONES GROUND OUR AIRCRAFT. Our firefighting operations are more important than those 12 likes you’ll get on Instagram.”

Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources social media post


Drones pose a significant safety risk to aviation assets and firefighters stationed on the ground. A collision between drones and firefighting aircraft could lead to severe or fatal accidents. Aerial firefighting operations might be halted until the drone evacuates the vicinity, potentially leading to the escalation of the wildfire. Firefighting aircraft, which encompass lead planes, helicopters, and air tankers, operate at altitudes as low as 150 feet above the terrain — a height commonly used by hobbyist drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration establishes Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) near wildfires. These restricted zones prohibit all aircraft, including drones, from operating. Additionally, impeding firefighting aircraft is considered a federal offense, irrespective of formal airspace restrictions.

“These aircraft are responding to incidents every single day,” said Karns. “Please avoid wildfire areas to provide a safe environment for firefighting aircraft and ground crews.”

See also- Emirates Airbus 380 Collides with Suspected Drone in France

Post Image Credit: Texas A&M Forest Service