In a recent brush with danger, a helicopter battling the Barth Fire in Caldwell County came perilously close to a drone. This alarming near-miss prompted an urgent plea from the Texas A&M Forest Service.
On Tuesday, officials revealed that while the helicopter was depositing water over the 150-acre Wildfire last Friday, it narrowly avoided a collision with a drone that ventured alarmingly close.
Jared Karns, the State Aviation Manager of the Texas A&M Forest Service, expressed grave concerns over the incident.
“Pilots have no way to detect a drone or know there is one present in the airspace until they see it,” he stated, emphasizing the vital role of aircraft in firefighting efforts. He added, “Suppression aircraft can respond to wildfires quickly… but they have to be able to fly in a safe environment.”
The Forest Service warned of the serious dangers that drones pose. When these unmanned devices are in the proximity of firefighting operations, they jeopardize the safety of both aircraft and ground crew. An unfortunate clash between a drone and an aircraft could lead to catastrophic consequences.
Moreover, firefighting measures might be halted until drones clear out, potentially exacerbating the wildfire. It's worth noting that many drones operated by enthusiasts cruise at an altitude of about 150 feet, the very height at which many firefighting aircraft operate.
To ensure safety, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets up Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) around areas affected by wildfires. This measure bars all aircraft, including drones, from accessing these zones. Anyone defying this and obstructing firefighting operations is committing a federal crime.
With Texas gripped by sweltering heat and arid conditions elevating the risk of wildfires, the Texas A&M Forest Service remains ever-vigilant. Since July, they've marshaled over 60 aviation resources to combat the fires. These have made significant contributions, unleashing over 502,503 gallons of fire retardant and a whopping 3.2 million gallons of water.
Karns highlighted the relentlessness of their operations: “These aircraft are responding to incidents every single day.” He implored the public to stay clear of active fire zones, underscoring the importance of safety for both the aircraft and ground crews.
It's worth mentioning that, this year alone, there have been 3,211 wildfires scorching 110,633 acres in Texas, with a staggering 1,350 occurring in just July and August.
For the latest on Texas wildfires, you can visit here. The Texas A&M Forest Service clarified that they source all firefighting aircraft through contracts with federal agencies.
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