Are Drones Really an Issue at Fires?

Gallatin County Emergency Management

We’ve seen a lot in recent years about Drones affecting the suppression of wildfires.  I suspect many people have a hard time visualizing why that is.  The following article from KRQE News does a good job explaining.

Video released shows drone threatening crews over Cajete Fire

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – KRQE News 13 can now share a video of the drone that threatened aircrews over the Cajete Fire on Saturday.

The drone violated restricted airspace and forced all aerial firefighting to be stopped.

Firefighters on the ground and in the air were battling the Cajete Fire near Los Alamos Saturday. That’s when Air Attack Supervisor Craig Campbell spotted the illegal drone near an air tanker about to drop retardant. So, he took out his cell phone camera.

“I would have expected it to look like a drone with four propellers that kind of flies like that. What you saw was a bright red, somewhat cylindrical object moving through the air,” Campbell said.

All firefighting aircraft were immediately told to stop their work and return to their bases.

Firefighter aircrews move so fast and low, and the drones are so small, there could be a collision.

“You would expect significant damage to the aircraft and it could potentially be catastrophic,” Campbell explained.

This was Campbell’s first encounter with a drone over a fire. He said he had wondered how he would ever spot such a small aircraft.

“Well, in this case I was able to see it because it was so close to one of our other aircraft. And that’s part of what makes it scary,” Campbell said. “I assume they don’t understand the risk they’re putting all the people who are flying at. And that’s the only assumption I could make. It’s something that could be devastating to one of our aircraft.”

When an unauthorized drone is spotted over a fire it not only threatens aircrews up here, but also lives and property on the ground.

That’s because when air tankers and helicopters are forced to leave, flames gain an advantage on ground crews.

Authorities still don’t know who flew the drone over the fire Saturday. Flying a drone in restricted airspace is an FAA violation and can lead to an arrest.


Courtesy KRQE News 13, Albequerque