Flying a drone near or over a wildfire interferes with suppression efforts and puts crews and property at risk, New Jersey environmental officials say.
“While drone owners may not realize the potential danger, the presence of these types of equipment during forest fires hampers our overall ability to protect life and property in our wooded areas,” said State Fire Warden Bill Edwards.
The New Jersey Forest Fire Service regularly utilizes planes and helicopters to fight and observe fires, requiring clear airspace, according to a Department of Environmental Protection release.
“A wide variety of aircraft, such as water-dropping helicopters, tanker aircraft and spotter aircraft, often operate above our actions on the ground. Use of drones in areas with aviation traffic is not permissible. In short, if you fly a drone near a wildfire, we can’t fly and put out fires,” Edwards said.
Operating a drone over active wildfires as well as within state and national parks is prohibited by state and federal laws, according to the release.
The Federal Aviation Administration typically activates a temporary flight restriction around wildfires. Anyone violating the order could face civil and/or criminal federal penalties.
“Every owner of these devices must follow the laws and policies regarding use of drones and help us fight wildfires by keeping clear of these areas while we combat the fire from above and on the ground,” Edwards added. “Anyone who sees a drone over the area of a wildfire should call our emergency number at 1-877-WARN-DEP (1-877-927-6337) or call your local police or fire department.”
In New Jersey, drones were spotted over wildfires and prescribed burns in the past year. In a recent incident, a low-flying drone flying near Mercer County’s Robbinsville Airport interfered with the nearly airspace.
In California, officials last July offered a $75,000 reward for anyone with information about drone operators who interfered with firefighting efforts during three wildfires, forcing the grounding of air water tankers and causing the fire to spread and ignite structures.