Southwest Area Incident Management Team 4 reminds the public “If You Fly, We Can’t”

August 28, 2020 – The Southwest Area Type 2 Incident Management Team 4 urges individuals and organizations that fly Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), often referred to as “drones,” to stay away from the Medio Fire area to ensure the safety of firefighters and the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations. The Medio Fire is located approximately 7 miles north of Santa Fe, NM.

Aerial firefighting aircraft, such as airtankers and helicopters, fly at very low altitudes, typically just a couple of hundred feet above the ground, the same as UAS flown by individuals and organizations. This situation creates the potential for a mid-air collision that could seriously injure or kill aerial and/or ground firefighters. In addition, a UAS that loses its communication link could fall from the sky, causing serious injuries or deaths of firefighters on the ground.

Unauthorized UAS flights over or near the Medio Fire could lead fire managers to suspend aerial wildfire suppression operations – such as airtankers dropping fire retardant and helicopters dropping water – until the UAS has left the airspace and they are confident it will not return. Suspending air operations could decrease the effectiveness of wildfire suppression operations, allowing wildfires to grow larger, and in some cases, unduly threaten lives, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources. Suspended air operations can also delay transportation of firefighters to different locations and add to wildfire suppression costs.

“It may be hard for individuals and organizations who aren’t familiar with wildfire suppression operations to understand why it’s so dangerous for them to fly a UAS over or near the Medio Fire,” said Incident Commander Carl Schwope.  “Firefighting aircraft typically fly in smoky, windy, and turbulent conditions. Safety depends on knowing what other aircraft are operating in the airspace and where they are at all times and this is compromised by the presence of unauthorized aircraft, including UAS.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has imposed a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) over the Medio Fire area. Information about this TFR and others are available online at http://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html. The TFR requires aircraft, manned or unmanned, that are not involved in wildfire suppression operations to obtain permission to enter specified airspace. The FAA and the U.S. Forest Service consider all UAS, including those flown by members of the public for hobby or recreation purposes, to be aircraft and therefore subject to TFRs.

Individuals and organizations who fly UAS without authorization over or near wildfires may be violating federal, state, and/or local laws, regulations, and ordinances, whether a TFR is in place or not. All unauthorized UAS flights over or near wildfires will be reported to the FAA and law enforcement agencies. Individuals who have been determined to have endangered manned aircraft or people on the ground with a UAS and/or interfered with wildfire suppression may be subject to civil penalties, including fines of up to $27,500.00 and potentially criminal prosecution. 

Inciweb: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7031/    

Santa Fe National Forest: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/santafe/home

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/santafeNF/       

New Mexico Fire Information: https://nmfireinfo.com/author/sfnfpao/

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