“If You Fly, We Can’t”: Private Drones Ruin Forest Fire Battles In Alaska

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When a 3-acre grass fire broke out in the Alaskan city of Wasilla on May 8th, the first responders faced an unexpected obstacle: private drones. 

The Alaska Division of Forestry (DOF) and The Alaska Fire Service had to issue a public service announcement explaining why flying drones near or over wildfires is a bad idea. Using hashtags #IfYouFlyWeCant and #NoDronesinFireZones on Facebook, the firefighters reminded that using civilian aircraft in such situations is not just illegal, but extremely dangerous. 

Drones operate in the same low airspace as firefighting aircraft, which poses a serious threat of a mid-air collision. In addition, fire managers must halt aerial firefighting operations if a drone is detected in the area. Which, of course, gives the flames the opportunity to spread fast and wide.

“We know wildfires are a tempting target for drone operators,” the DOF statement says, adding that it is not okay to launch the gadgets even if the first responders haven’t arrived yet. “Firefighting aircraft could fly into the area at any time.”

“So please, for the safety of firefighters and the public, don’t fly drones near or over wildfires. Keep drones grounded so we don’t have to ground our aircraft.”

Thankfully, the wildfire in Wasilla, which took place near East Leota Street was successfully contained in several hours.

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