Drone Grounds Planes at Texas Wildfire

Drone halted operations of two SEATS at Fambro Fire

 

Abilene Reporter-News

Two Texas A&M Forest Service planes fighting a wildfire in Erath County had to be grounded Thursday because of a drone flying near the fire.

Flying a drone near a wildfire creates a serious safety hazard for firefighters and halts the assistance of any firefighting aircraft, the forest service said in a news release.

“Even a small drone can cause damage to an aircraft,” said Phillip Truitt, Texas A&M Forest Service communications specialist. Because firefighting tankers fly so low, they are more vulnerable to collisions with drones.

Truitt said this was the first incident that he knew of in which a drone has interfered with planes dropping retardant on a wildfire.

Two single-engine air tankers, called SEATs by the forest service, were sent to help fight the Fambro Fire, north of Stephenville.

“The first SEAT had already dropped retardant on the fire and the second SEAT was lined up to follow and complete the drop when the drone appeared directly in its path,” said Erin O’Connor, public information officer for the forest service.

Drones of any size can cause a serious or fatal accident if they collide with firefighting aircraft, the forest service reported. Furthermore, pilots have no way to detect drones other than by seeing them. For those reasons, if drones are reported near a Texas wildfire, the forest service will ground firefighting aircraft or send them to a different location immediately.

This can result in wildfires becoming larger and leaves firefighters and dozer operators on the ground with no option to use retardant drops from aircraft as a suppression tool, the forest service said. Retardant drops are used to cool flames for faster control by firefighters and to provide direct protection of homes and other structures.

“While UAS or drones are fun to fly, they post a direct threat to pilot safety on wildfires. If you fly, we can’t. Which means potentially more threat to lives and property,” said Shawn Whitley, program coordinator for the forest service. “If you see someone using a drone in the area of a wildfire, please contact your local law enforcement department.”

On Thursday, the Texas A&M Forest Service responded to 10 fires consuming more than 7,000 acres.

The Fambro Fire was contained Thursday after burning nearly 300 acres.

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