Crews Say Drones Hamper Firefighting Efforts

Aug 1, 2016

A wildfire in southeast Washington has grown to 70,000 acres between Yakima and the Tri-Cities. More than 100 crew members are working to keep the Range 12 Fire from spreading.

But they say something could slow that work down: drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration emailed all 500,000 drone owners in its registry this week to remind them to stay away from wildfires. Close calls between hobby drones and firefighting aircraft persist across the West despite repeated warnings.

Routine operation of small drones for commercial or civilian purposes have clearance for takeoff. The Federal Aviation Administration Tuesday finalized rules to replace the previous case-by-case assessment of drone uses.

Boats have to stay 200 yards away from the Northwest’s endangered resident killer whales. But what if one of those boaters launches an aerial drone to take better pictures from closer up?

It's not a theoretical question. And the answer is not as clear as law enforcement would like.

It just became easier for students to fly drones as part of their class work. The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday loosened restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft in academia.

The Washington state Capitol campus could soon be a no-fly-zone for drones. The agency that oversees the 486-acre campus is considering a strict ban.

If you want to go to college to learn how to design, build, fly or fix a drone, your time has come. Many institutions of higher learning around the Northwest are recognizing that unmanned aircraft could become a key technology of the future.

The Boeing Company's unmanned aircraft subsidiary based in the Columbia River Gorge passed a milestone this week in commercializing drone technology.

Killer whale biologists used a hexacopter drone last month to capture stunning, overhead photos of every single member of the endangered Puget Sound orca population.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Consumer drones look like child's play after you get a gander at the unmanned, water-dropping helicopter that was pitched to the federal government Wednesday. The K-MAX chopper is the largest of several remotely-piloted firefighting aircraft to get a tryout this year.

Tom Banse / / Northwest News Network

Talk about a big drone… Federal wildfire fighting agencies got a close-up look Wednesday at a remotely piloted helicopter that can fly through smoke or darkness to drop water or ferry supplies. 

Multiple times this summer, the sighting of a wayward hobbyist drone has grounded aerial firefighting aircraft at Western wildfires. But unmanned aircraft have the potential to be useful at wildfires too.

Drones Compromise Firefighting Efforts

Aug 26, 2015

With the surge in wildfires this year, firefighters are facing a new challenge; interference from drones. 

Unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft are being flown near active wildfires.  The safety issues they cause can keep aircraft grounded—and keep them from the frequently critical task of dropping retardant. 

“Flying a drone near a wildfire is putting someone else’s life in danger, whether it be firefighters on the ground, pilots in the air…your drone hobby is not worth someone else’s life…”

Idaho fish and game regulators want there to be no doubt that hunters cannot use drones. In Oregon as well, lawmakers have tried to head off a fair chase issue before it rears its head.

The Federal Aviation Administration has recently granted clearance for takeoff to big batches of commercial drone operators.

Sales of small, camera-equipped drones are soaring. Aside from air safety issues, these remotely-piloted aircraft can raise privacy concerns if they fly uninvited over your backyard or past your bedroom windows.

Advanced Aviation Solutions , an Idaho-based startup, has become the first company to win federal approval to use drones in farm settings.

Amazon / Associated Press

A new letter from Amazon to the Federal Aviation Administration indicated the e-commerce giant is getting frustrated with the wait for approval to test package delivery drones.

An Amazon vice president wrote that drone engineering and testing could soon be relocated abroad from the Seattle area.

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

New data from the FAA shows the frequency of close calls between manned aircraft and small drones is soaring. Pilots or air traffic controllers logged ten disconcerting incidents in Northwest skies since April. The head of a local pilots group says "near misses" are bound to increase as hobby drones gain in popularity.

AP Images

Judging from holiday advertising, lots of teenagers and grownups will find a drone under the Christmas tree this year. The increasing affordability and popularity of remotely piloted airplanes and choppers is leading to conflict in Northwest skies. 

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

The Washington governor's office unveiled draft rules for government use of drones Monday. This would replace drone legislation that Democrat Jay Inslee vetoed earlier this year. 

The state's chief information officer presented the draft bill to a task force convened by Washington's governor. Michael Cockrill said the Inslee Administration's preferred approach is "to be permissive, not restrictive."

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

Law enforcement groups in Washington state are pushing back against possible limits on police use of drones. That happened as a task force convened by the governor wrestled some more Monday about how to regulate small unmanned aircraft.

In April, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the Washington Legislature's first attempt to regulate government use of drones. Now police groups are worried the planned second try will handcuff their ability to take advantage of the new technology. Mitch Barker directs the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled plans for aerial drone delivery of packages last year, many observers dismissed the concept as science fiction or pie-in-the-sky.

Both Oregon and Washington’s state forestry departments had hoped to try out drones this summer to provide reconnaissance at wildfire scenes. But neither firefighting agency managed to pull it off. Now both plan to try again next year.

Courtney Flatt / Northwest News Network

Drones could soon be the newest gadgets in forest conservation. A group of Washington college students recently built and tested a drone that will survey the health of the forest. The hope is that drones will speed up restoration efforts and save some money. For EarthFix, Courtney Flatt has more.

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

Imagine looking out your window to see a drone hovering outside. That happened earlier this month to a partially-dressed Seattle woman who was startled and outraged. That incident came up Monday as a Washington state task force convened for the first time to develop privacy rules for drones – something Oregon and Idaho have already done. The Washington task force quickly narrowed its focus.

The Federal Aviation Administration will soon allow the testing of unmanned aerial vehicles - or drones - in the skies above Oregon. This morning the FAA announced it had selected a joint proposal from Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii to be among six newly designated drone testing sites across the US. Oregon Public Broadcasting's David Nogueras reports.

A search effort for a missing hiker at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho is turning to drone technology for help.

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

New restrictions on drones are moving forward in the Oregon legislature. Lawmakers reached an agreement Tuesday on a measure that would limit the way law enforcement can use unmanned aircraft.

Civilian use of aerial drones is still greatly restricted, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has won permission to test a small unmanned aircraft off the Olympic Coast of Washington. 

A two-week trial run by the federal science agency is now underway.

The NOAA drone looks like an oversized remote-control model airplane. It has a 9-foot wingspan and can fly for about two hours on battery power.