Drone users reminded to stay away from wildfires

Drone users reminded to stay away from wildfires

BC Wildfire Service is reminding the public that flying drones near wildfires is illegal. (Flickr)

BC Wildfire Service is reminding the public that the use of drones near wildfires is illegal after one interrupted fire crews in the Southeast Fire Centre this weekend.

BC Wildfire Service staff were forced to temporarily halt air operations on the Wilson Creek wildfire near Nakusp on Sunday due to people operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or “drones”) above the fire.

A helicopter that was supporting ground crews was grounded. Additional firefighting aircraft working on other fires in the area had to be diverted from their flight paths to avoid the airspace around Little Wilson Lake area, which is about 19 kilometres east of Nakusp.

The airspace around Little Wilson Lake is once again clear for firefighting aircraft to operate and the RCMP is working with the BC Wildfire Service to investigate the incident.

The use of drones near a wildfire is illegal and the restricted airspace includes a radius of five nautical miles around the fire, and to an altitude of 3,000 feet above ground level.

The presence of drones near an active wildfire can slow down, or completely shut down, aerial firefighting efforts, due to safety concerns. If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft, the consequences could be deadly.

Under federal regulations, anyone caught operating a drone within an active wildfire could be fined $25,000, or jailed for up to 18 months.

The use of UAVs or drones near or on a wildfire is also considered to be “interference,” as defined in Section 56 of the provincial Wildfire Act. Operators are subject to a violation ticket fine of $1,150. If convicted, the operator could be fined up to $100,000 and/or face imprisonment of over a year.