Aerial firefighting resources, such as airtankers and helicopters, fly at very low altitudes, typically just a few hundred feet above the ground and in the same airspace as drones flown by the public. This creates the potential for a mid-air collision, or a pilot distraction that may results in a crash, which could seriously injure or kill aerial and/or ground firefighters.
Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) typically put in place during wildfires require all aircraft not involved in wildfire suppression operations to obtain permission to enter specified airspace. Drones, including those flown by the public for fun, are considered aircraft under federal law, and are therefore subject to all TFRs.
Members of the public should not fly drones over or near wildfires even if a TFR is not in place because of the potential for accidents and disruption of suppression operations. Individuals who are determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts may be subject to civil penalties of up to $20,000 and criminal prosecution punishable by up to two years in jail. Members of the public who have witnessed, or have information about an unauthorized drone flight over or near a wildfire, should contact local law enforcement.