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Arizona Tops the Nation in Illegal Drone Flights Over Wildfires

Cliff Cross/12 News

Arizona has the highest number in the country this year for illegal drone flights over wildfires. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, it puts firefighters and property even more at risk. 

Fire officials report at least seven drone incidents this year in Arizona alone. Two of those occurred during the recent Goodwin Fire. A Prescott Valley man was arrested and faces 14 charges of endangering fire crews.

Mike Johnson with the Goodwin Fire command team says when a drone is spotted all aircraft are immediately grounded.

"It’s a very significant danger. It not only endangers the pilots … but it impacts the firefighters working on the ground because they can’t receive the support they need to safely engage in firefighting activities," he says.

Johnson says aircraft can remain on the ground for hours, which is critical time lost when fighting a fast-moving wildfire.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, a dozen drone intrusions have been reported nationwide this year. More than 40 occurred in 2016, which was double the previous year’s number. 

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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