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Drone pilots handcuffed near Springville fire

Photo courtesy Getty Images

SPRINGVILLE, UT –Drones forced the U.S. Forest Service to shut down firefighting operations Thursday morning in the area of the Alaska fire near Springville.

The drone pilots were handcuffed for a time, in part because flying drones over the airspace of a fire can be dangerous.

“There’s nothing like having a large aircraft at mid-level elevation. You add into that somebody flying a drone, and that increases the stress,” says Jason Curry with the U.S. Forest Service.

Curry says some people assume that if they don’t see a firefighting plane that it’s ok to fly their drones. “Even firefighters on the ground are surprised when these aircraft do arrive, because they’re flying low, a lot of time they’re flying pretty fast.”

And you can hear them. Drones make a very specific noise that can be compared to a scream.  And once they’re seen, all air support for fires has to be immediately shut down.

Curry says some drone operators have no idea how dangerous their hobby is. “They say, ‘We felt like there was no aviation over the fire, so we thought that it was safe to go ahead and do so,’ and it’s really not up to them to make that decision.”

Drone operators caught flying their aircraft over an active fire can be jailed and fined up to $250,000.  The website Know Before You Fly can help you figure out if it’s safe to fly drones in your area.