Drones Over Wildfires: What’s Going to Happen in Utah?

drones over wildfires

Photo by WPPilot – Own work, CC BY 4.0

Gov. Herbert of Utah has called a special session of Utah State Legislature to address a call for stiff penalties for flying drones over wildfires in the state.

The July 13 session will address a measure that would increase penalties for drone operators who are seen to be interfering with firefighters.

“This summer, wildfires in the state have become significantly worse due to drones interrupting air operations,” Gov. Herbert said in a statement. “It is dangerous and completely unacceptable, and this legislation takes steps to ensure that our emergency management personnel are safe and empowered to do their jobs effectively.”

 

Utah has already passed anti-drone legislation designed to keep drones away from wildfires.  It is already a second-degree felony – punishable by up to 15 years in prison –  if a rogue drone is found responsible for causing a firefighting air tanker to crash.  It is a third-degree felony to allow your drone to collide with a firefighting aircraft; a class A misdemeanor to prevent a tanker from dropping its retardant; and a class B misdemeanor to simply operate a drone in a restricted area – like over a wildfire.  The above sanctions are in addition to the FAA’s current penalties, which could impose up to $27,500 in civil penalties as well as potential criminal prosecution.

The most recent move comes as firefighters working to contain Utah’s Saddle Fire issued a press release saying that a fifth drone-related incident had interrupted operations.  “Everyone is reminded to never fly drones over a wildfire. If you fly, we can’t. Because of the inaccessibility of the fire perimiter, fire managers utilize aircraft to support firefighters in challenging areas,” says the press release.

There is a 5-mile no fly zone around the Saddle Fire.

 


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