With the Texas winter wildfire season upon us, officials at Texas A&M Forest Service are responding to an increase in wildfire frequency across the state. Yesterday, two Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATS) responding to a wildfire in Erath County were grounded due to the presence of a drone in the wildfire perimeter.
Flying a drone near a wildfire creates a serious safety hazard for firefighters and halts the assistance of any firefighting aircraft.
“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 their path,” said Texas A&M Forest Service Public Information Officer Erin O’Connor.
Drones of any size can cause a serious or fatal accident if they collide with firefighting aircraft. Furthermore, pilots have no way to detect drones other than by seeing them. For those reasons – if drones are reported near a Texas wildfire, firefighting aircraft will be grounded or sent 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. 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 Texas A&M Forest Service Program Coordinator Shawn Whitley. “If you see someone using a drone in the area of a wildfire, please contact your local law enforcement department.”
Yesterday, Texas A&M Forest Service responded to 10 fires for an estimated 7,114.2 acres.
For more information on Texas A&M Forest Service wildfire response, visit the Texas Interagency Coordination Center website or the Texas A&M Forest Service Current Situation page.