Arizona Tops the Nation in Illegal Drone Flights Over Wildfires

Jul 6, 2017

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. 

A helicopter drops fire retardant during the Goodwin Fire. Aircraft can be grounded for hours if a drone is spotted in the airspace over a fire.
Credit Cliff Cross/12 News

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.