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Drone operators reminded to steer clear of wildfires

(Source United States Department of Agriculture) (Source United States Department of Agriculture)

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KSWO) –Oklahoma Forestry Services is advising operators of unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones, to not fly near or over wildfires.

“Drone operators need to understand that when they are detected near a fire, the aircraft being used to suppress fire has to be diverted away from the area,” said George Geissler, Oklahoma State Forester. “Drones pose a threat to these low flying aircraft and their pilots, and increase the risk of lives and property loss on the ground.”

With the current wildfire conditions across Oklahoma, Oklahoma Forestry Services has federal and Oklahoma Air National Guard aircraft assigned to wildland fire suppression. The aircraft include single engine air tankers, the CL-415 “Super Scooper” and helicopters.

The aircraft fly low to the ground while dropping water and retardant, sometime below 200 feet. Federal guidelines allow drones to be flown up to 400 feet in the air, which can cause potentially catastrophic damage to the planes if they collide. Because of the potential for a mid-air collision, the aircraft that should be putting out fires are diverted away if a drone is detected.

Oklahoma has seen three instances of drones being detected near wildfire in the last five months.

“Unmanned aerial systems have a wide variety of uses, many of which are only beginning to be explored,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology Stephen McKeever. “Currently drone use during wildland fire suppression is not advisable due to potential conflict with helicopters and tankers activity fighting the fires. We must always consider the safety of our firefighters and the public first.”

Drones have become increasingly popular because of expanding availability and reduced cost. With the new found popularity, many people are flying drones with little to no aviation experience. Oklahoma Forestry Services hopes to work with others across the state to educate drone operators about the dangers of flying near wildfires.

Only Harper County is in a burn ban as of March 3. You can learn more about the current wildland fire situation here.

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