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By Micah Drew
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FAA Investigating Drone Flight Near Rice Ridge Fire

 

August 10, 2017



SEELEY LAKE - Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, aerial operations on the Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake were shut down due to a civilian drone flight.

A local resident spotted the drone and U.S. Forest Service officers were able to identify and contact the man. He was not arrested at the time but will likely be charged.

“At this point it’s an open federal investigation,” said Federal Officer Tyler Robinson.

The incident is under shared jurisdiction, and the Forest Service is working with a special agent with the Federal Aviation Administration.

A drone was also spotted flying over Rovero’s and Blue River around 10 p.m. on Monday evening, July 31. There was another drone reported to law enforcement Sunday, Aug. 6 flying over the Double Arrow Lodge. Neither resulted in aerial operations being shut down on the fire. Authorities are still investigating the Sunday report.

Montana Public Radio reported that there have been more than 18 public drone incursions this fire season, the most notable an arrest in Arizona after a man flying his drone grounded 14 firefighting aircraft for nearly an hour. Ground crews were told to disengage from the fire because they were left unprotected without air support.

“Most members of the public would never dream of standing in front of a fire engine to stop it from getting to a wildfire but that’s essentially what they’re doing to aerial firefighting aircraft when they fly a drone over or near a wildfire,” said Dan Buckley, Chair of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. 

It is a federal offense to fly a drone in restricted air space around a fire. If an individual is found to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts may be subject to fines of up to $20,000 and potential criminal prosecution.

To keep drone pilots aware of flight restrictions, the FAA has a smartphone app called B4UFLY which helps drone pilots determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements at the location where they want to fly. Additional information is available at https://www.faa.gov/uas/where_to_fly/b4ufly/

Wildland fire management agencies are also using a variety of communication tools to connect with drone pilots. The “If You Fly, We Can’t” safety awareness campaign is designed to keep drone pilots away from airspace used by firefighters. Additional information is available at https://www.nifc.gov/drones/index.html

 

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