Santa Fe National Forest Urges Public Not to Fly Drones Within or Near Wildland Fire Operations to Ensure Safety for All

SANTA FE, NM – May 2, 2018 – For Immediate Release. On Monday, April 30, airtanker operations were suspended on the Chicoma Fire on the Santa Fe National Forest after drone intrusion.  Chicoma Fire is burning on the Española Ranger District on the Santa Fe National Forest 5 miles east of Chicoma Peak and 9 miles west of Española, New Mexico.

After air attack reported that an unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone, was flying over the fire, all air operations were advised to stand down.  Law Enforcement could not find the operator or get the drone cleared from the area.  Air resources were suspended the rest of the operational shift and released from the fire.

Santa Fe National Forest officials along with all federal, state, and local wildland fire agencies are reminding the public not to fly “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)” or drones within or near wildfires at any time to ensure firefighter safety and the effectiveness of suppression operations.

“Drones over fires risk firefighter safety, interrupt our air operations, and compromise our ability to suppress wildfires,” said Forest Supervisor James Melonas.  “Through great efforts, firefighters were able to make good progress to contain the Chicoma fire the last two days, but as we get hotter and drier, the impacts of stopping air operations during a fire will increase significantly.”

Aerial firefighting aircraft, such as air tankers and helicopters, are valuable resources used to rapidly curtail the spread of unwanted wildfires that can often be very difficult to suppress. They are sometimes the deciding factor in successfully stopping a fast- moving wildfire. These aircraft typically fly at very low altitudes and UAS interference can instantly stop operations to avoid the risk of a potentially catastrophic mid-air collision.  Flying into airspace under a Temporary Flight Restriction can result in large fines and jail time. Unforeseen intrusions of this nature impede suppression efforts and compromise the safety of firefighting personnel. The impending consequences have the potential to threaten communities and endanger lives.

A number of websites are available to the public to obtain more information about UAS safe practices and Federal Aviation Administration requirements.  For guidance, see

Drone & Wildfires: https://www.nifc.gov/drones/index.html

Federal Aviation Administration: https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/model_aircraft/

Know Before You Fly: http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/resources/

To learn more or to report a safety-related UAS event, go to the FAA’s Aviation Safety Hotline website at: https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/aae/programs_services/faa_hotlines/

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