Many pilots are tempted to use drones to capture footage of natural disasters, such as floods or forest fires. The northern Californian wildfires have killed over 40 people, and firefighters have already warned against drones from flying into the fire zones and interfering with emergency efforts.
Over 10,000 firefighters and emergency service personnel were working to try and control the spread of the fire, and the FAA warned that drones invading the airspace posed a threat the emergency professionals working beneath them; there had already been two reports of pilots flying UAVs over restricted areas during fire control efforts. This is extremely dangerous because the airspace needs to be used by helicopters and other emergency vehicles, not only to control the fire but to help personnel on the ground; the longer that the airspace is unusable or unsafe, the higher the likelihood of the fire spreading.
The Wall Street Journal reported that, in mid-2016, the United States’ Forest Service knew of six instances of drones trespassing into fire zones, grounding emergency aircraft as a result. Additionally, in 2015, drones prevented aircraft from pouring over 10,000 gallons of fire retardant on to an area, resulting in about $15,000 of damage. One might argue that drones are very small and would not pose any threat to aircraft, however, it is well-known that even birds are dangerous to helicopters and small planes.
It is important for pilots to understand that drones should not be used to capture footage of natural disasters when emergency personnel and vehicles are in the area. It is the pilot’s responsibility to stay away from restricted zones—and the FAA’s app, B4UFLY, allows pilots to check for local restricted zones before letting their drones fly. Piloting a drone into a restricted zone could result in casualties, and no amount of video footage is worth putting someone’s life at risk.