Drones interfere with aviation operations on Pinal Fire

Pinal Fire

Above: Undated Inciweb photo of the Pinal Fire.

Four separate incidents involving hobbyists flying drones are hindering operations on the 4,991-acre Pinal Fire since the fire was detected May 8 in the Tonto National Forest five miles south of Globe, Arizona.

The latest drone sighting occurred May 24, 2017. An air tanker flying over the fire was forced to release its retardant at a higher altitude for safety reasons. The higher drop reduced the retardant’s effectiveness on the fire. Subsequently, aviation operations were suspended until the drone issue was resolved.

On May 20, 2017, a law enforcement officer cited a hobbyist for flying a drone near the Pinal Fire.

Pinal Fire map
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Pinal Fire. The red dots are the most recent, from 3:15 a.m. MDT May 26, 2017.

Forest Service officials continue to emphasize that flying drones over or in close proximity to wildfires is illegal, endangers aviators as well as crews on the ground, and slows operations which potentially could result in the fire increasing in size.

Deputy Forest Supervisor Tom Torres, Tonto National Forest, explained that flying a drone near a wildfire is, in fact, breaking the law.

“The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations 43 CFR 9212.1(f) – indicates that it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire,” Torres said. “Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance.

Drone operators determined to have endangered manned aircraft or people on the ground and/or interfered with wildfire suppression may be subject to civil penalties, including fines of up to $25,000, and potentially criminal prosecution.

Management of the fire

The Pinal Fire is being managed, not aggressively suppressed. One of the objectives is to create a continuous fuel break between the Pinal Mountains and the town of Globe five miles to the north.

Firefighters are involved in preparation and defense of structures and infrastructure along the indirect control lines from which firing operations could be conducted where necessary to maintain low intensity fire conditions and prevent unwanted impacts to the values at risk.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+