Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), generally called drones, are gaining in popularity. Although drones are fun to fly, they can be deadly if flown near wildfires. Drones can interfere with wildland fire air traffic, such as air tankers, helicopters, and other firefighting aircraft that are necessary to suppress wildland fires. Aerial firefighting missions including aerial supervision, air tanker retardant drops, helicopter water drops, and smokejumper paracargo occur between ground level and 200 feet above ground level, which is the same altitude that many hobbyist drones fly.
Hobbyist drones and firefighting aircraft don’t mix. All authorized aircraft on an incident maintain radio communication with each other to safely coordinate their missions, but aerial firefighting flight crews have no way to communicate with drone operators. Aerial firefighting aircraft have no way to detect drones other than by seeing them, and visual detection is nearly impossible due to the small size of most drones. These factors make a mid-air collision with an unauthorized drone a distinct possibility.
Per the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 43 CFR 9212.1(f), it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire. Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance. So, be smart and just don’t fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire. No amount of video or photos are worth the consequences.