It may seem like fun to take some aerial action photography when a wildfire is burning in Marin. DON’T DO IT! FIREFIGHTING AIRCRAFT fly low and fast, often beneath the 400′ hobby aircraft ceiling. If a hobby drone is spotted anywhere in the vicinity of a wildfire (during a wildfire, airspace is closed for several miles in all directions), all firefighting aircraft will be grounded for safety, and you may be responsible for their inability to fight the fire. Flying a drone near a wildfire is a crime and puts firefighters, pilots and anyone living in the path of the fire at risk.
The first fire season since the end of California’s historic five-year drought is off to a raging start, with blazes burning throughout much of the state this weekend. As of early Sunday, firefighters are battling 16 active wildfires that have scorched nearly 49,000 acres amid a summer heat wave, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported on its statewide fire map.
With all signs pointing to a difficult post-drought fire season ahead, Cal Fire officials are reminding hobby drone operators to steer clear of wildfires. Drones pose a safety hazard to first responders as well as the public as they can slow, or even stop, firefighting operations.
“Very simply put: If you fly, we cannot fly,” Cal Fire Spokesman Tony Mecham said.
“One of the most effective tools we have in the early stages of a fire is the use of aircraft. And when people fly drones, I do not think they understand the impact this has on the fire agencies,” Mecham added. “We have to pull all fire aircraft out of the area until we can find the drone owner to land the drone.”
It is illegal to impede firefighting by flying a drone at the scene of any fire. It is also a crime to interfere with or resist the orders of firefighters or emergency rescue personnel fighting a fire.
Still, fire officials said drones often get in the way of their ability to fight wildfires.
In June, authorities issued an advisory instructing drone operators to cease all activity when a brush fire blackened 50 acres along the Camp Pendleton-Oceanside border. According to the advisory, drone use hindered aerial support for the fire.
More recently, Cal Fire officials last week said drones delayed firefighting efforts during the Eagle Fire near Lake Mathews in Riverside County. Aerial firefighting operations were suspended for 10 minutes when a drone was spotted over the fire, which sparked on the Fourth of July and burned 205 acres before it was fully contained the following day.