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Feds Try New App To Keep Drones Away From Wildfires

Capital Public Radio / File

A drone flies over downtown Sacramento.

Capital Public Radio / File

This summer the federal government is  testing a warning system that is designed to keep drones away from firefighting aircraft.

The warning system is designed to alert drone operators of a newly-started fire, so that they may avoid the area.

Brad Koeckeritz is the Division Chief For Unmanned Aircraft Systems with the Department of Interior.

"The lion's share of the aircraft that we see are the quad-copter that a lot of folks can buy at their local electronics shop," he says. "And, those, in general, the manufacturers have capability built in, including the ability to see a map that tells you whether or not you are operating in an area that you should or should not be."

Koeckritz says people with homemade drones can also download an app to receive the alerts.

There are federal penalties for interfering with piloted aircraft.

Koeckritz says the warning system will quickly alert drone operators to temporary flight restrictions or TFR's, instead of waiting days for the Federal Aviation Administration to issue orders.

'The vast majority of fires that we put out are within the first 24 hours and really by the time we were able to put a flight restriction in place, there would be no purpose to have it there anymore. So," he says, "the goal is to kind of bridge that gap between when a fire first starts and when it may or may not need a TFR."

The Department of Interior says the number of drone reports during fires was 21 last year -double the year before.

Six times, planes were grounded due to drone activity.

Twice, a firefighting aircraft was  forced to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a drone.

Bob Moffitt

Sacramento Region Reporter

Bob reports on all things northern California and Nevada. His coverage of police technology, local athletes, and the environment has won a regional Associated Press and several Edward R. Murrow awards.   Read Full Bio 

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