Colorado fire officials urging people to stop flying drones near wildfires

Drone shutdown air operations at Bocco Fire Sunday
Posted at 5:53 PM, Jun 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-14 21:02:27-04

DENVER -- As thousands of firefighters battle wildfires across Colorado, fire officials are urging people to stop flying drones into the flames.

"[It's] not a distraction anybody needs—whether they're on the ground or in the air," said Steve Hall, with the Colorado Bureau of Land Management.

Hall said drones are putting pilots and the public at risk and recently caused firefighters to shutdown air operations at the Bocco Fire, which is now 50 percent contained and scorched 400 acres in Eagle County.

"Had to shut down operations because somebody had flown a drone into restricted air space," Hall said.

The Bureau of Land Management said tankers and helicopters were grounded for at least an hour and were unable to douse flames while crews searched for the drone.

"If you have aviation equipment moving quickly and they hit a drone, that's going to cause significant damage and really be a safety issue for that pilot," explained Hall.

The safety risks for pilots is why Hall said fire crews ground planes when drones are spotted, which results in a loss of critical resources firefighters need to save homes and keep wildfires from spreading.

"It could be five, 10 fewer tanker drops, bucket drops and that can make a huge difference in a wildfire," said Hall.

The drone sighting at the Bocco Fire isn't a first either. Firefighters found a melted drone on the South Table Mountain fire in 2016.

The U.S. Forest Service said there were 11 times drones interfered with aerial wildfire fighting in five other states last year.

The recent reports of drones interfering with air operations prompted U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., to get involved earlier this week.

"If you are flying an unauthorized drone in one of these areas where a tanker is trying to get into to try and fight a fire, stop it," said Sen. Gardner from Washington D.C.

"If you fly, we can't," said Hall.

No matter how great the temptation, Hall said that epic shot for Instagram isn't worth putting firefighters and the public at risk.

A pilot caught flying a drone in a restricted airspace during a wildfire can face jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.