DNR reminds drone operators of wildfire flight rules

LANSING — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reminding drone, and other unmanned aircraft system, operators that state laws restrict drone use at the scenes of wildfires in Michigan.

Michigan’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act prohibits an individual from knowingly or intentionally operating a drone or other unmanned aircraft in a manner that interferes with the official duties of firefighters, police, paramedics or search and rescue personnel.

“When a drone is in the air at a wildfire, it poses a safety hazard to our pilots and firefighters, which could require us to ground our spotter planes and fire suppression aircraft,” said Kevin Jacobs, DNR aviation manager. “This can prolong the amount of time it takes to put the fire out, hampers the ability of firefighters to protect lives, property and other resources, while also jeopardizing the safety of fire crews battling the fire on the ground.”

Drones and other types of unmanned aircraft systems are becoming increasingly popular with not only the public, but with governmental entities, including townships, cities and states.

“We are trying actively to educate operators of these types of aircraft, hoping they will understand and respect the potential hazards involved and keep their aircraft away from wildfires,” said John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer. “We anticipate operators will see the obvious value in this restriction. Beyond that, it’s illegal to fly this type of craft in interference with fire suppression activities.”

Michigan is joining other states, including neighboring Wisconsin, in working toward a goal of an area free of non-emergency aircraft, including drones and other unmanned aircraft systems, within a 5-mile radius of wildfires.

“Voluntary compliance with this request by operators would ensure safer skies for our dedicated fire pilots,” Pepin said. “We all need the DNR fire pilots to be safe to help keep our lives, property and resources safe.”

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