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Current Events

Drones and Planes Don’t Mix! Drones Pose Threat to Firefighters

By Tanya Goodall Smith on August 18th 2014

Deerfire high res edit.jpg

Deerfire high res edit” by John McColgan – Edited by Fir0002 – taken by John McColgan, employed as a fire behavior analyst at the Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

According to an article in the Statesman Journal, hobbyist drones (officially known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS) have been involved in three wildfires, one of those incidents in Northern California almost grounding aerial firefighting efforts. The other two in Oregon and Washington.

They were in the preparation process of getting ready to shut down aircraft,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE. “They actually located the drone and were able to mitigate the problem.

The airspace over and near wildfires is under temporary flight restrictions, which bans drones and private aircraft from flying in the area. Firefighting planes must fly very low to the ground in order to collect water and control the fires. Drones can easily get in the way and cause danger to the pilots, many of whom are volunteering their time and risking their lives, not to mention using expensive air craft, to fight fires. Add worst case scenario conditions like smoke and low visibility, and drones can really get in the way and be a danger.

This is a subject near and dear to me because the fires in Washington, while not affecting my property personally, did have a devastating affect on my community. Hundreds of people lost their homes. The smoke was so thick one week, we couldn’t leave the house. Truckloads of water, diapers, blankets and food were sent to the victims, who were camped out in churches and schools. Volunteer fire fighters left their day jobs and families to fight the fires. My husband, who is an air traffic controller, was one who volunteered. I can’t imagine someone knowingly putting those volunteers as risk.

As a photographer, I totally get the temptation to want to capture images of things we humans don’t get to experience. But doing so at the risk of people’s lives doesn’t interest me at all. Using a little common sense and knowing the laws about drone usage can protect photographers as well. It’s against the law to fly unmanned aircraft in restricted airspace in the United States. If there’s a fire near your community, keep your hobby planes away.

For information about where you can and cannot fly drones in the United States, read AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHERS: MAP SHOWS WHERE YOU CAN AND CANNOT FLY DRONES IN THE US.

Via Statesman Journal

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Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Dave Smith

    Very misleading article. They drones weren’t “involved” in fires. None of the drone pilots were cited because they didn’t violate the law, “Both of those were near the fires but outside of the Temporary Flight Restrictions zones” . So, the pilots WERE following the law and operating safely. Until they declare a no fly zone they can fly, they can fly outside the no fly zone just like the pilots in the source articles. . Like the news choppers never had to be chased out of a no fly zone before !!! There is a serious over reaction to drones, NO I DO NOT OWN ONE, They don’t want them to fly in national parks, because it will scare the animals. Like the Forest service choppers, atvs, snowmobiles doesn’t? Like the visitors charging the animals trying to get a cool selfie doesn’t?

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    • Matthew Saville

      Will it remain an “overreaction” when the first pilot / crew / passengers are killed when a drone is struck by a plane / helicopter? In regulated / un-regulated airspace? Either way, I think unless you’re a pilot yourself you should probably let them continue to “overreact”.

      Oh, and regarding “scaring the animals”. Not only does it scare the animals, but it bugs the crap out of EVERYBODY, humans and wildlife alike, to have drones buzzing around. Not sure if you’ve ever been trying to relax and enjoy nature only to have one of those things show up and fly back and forth incessantly as some hobbyist / pro “gets the footage they were after”, but it’s downright noise pollution / disturbing the peace, in some cases.


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    • Dave Coburn

      Well Mathew there I was in Yellowstone and see a nice head of Bison moving into a great composition. I find a good spot in my camo and just waiting for the right moment. In a short time here comes a herd of people bounding down the hill, yelling and screaming. I nearly get trampled as the crowd in now running into the meadow with the camera phones just clicking away. One of the last woman to pass me says, OH i guess we ruined your shot, as I was packing up. In a matter of seconds the calm herd is not stampeding off. So to think that one drone buzzing at a couple of hundred feet is going to make as much noise and fear in the animal is ludicrous. Drones are regulated as is aircraft and each should obey their separate regulations. How many drones have hit planes to cause this over reaction? Yup, ZERO. How many planes have crashed into each other? 2 incidents that I know of in 2013, so that makes 4 planes. Seems there might be more regulations regarding planes vs drones.

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  2. Austin Swenson

    I think they also don’t want the drones scaring or distracting the animals in the parks either.

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  3. Brandon Dewey

    I used to fly in helicopter for a living and when I was flying low I always had to keep a look out for birds. A bird strike can cause a lot of damage and or cause a helicopter to crash. If a bird can crash a helicopter a drone can to. A drone is not a toy, the FAA has laws in place for a reason and being ignorant of the law is not an excuse.

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  4. John Havord

    It’s unfortunate that people need to be reminded to use a bit of common sense.

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