Fort McMurray firefighters call for drones to be grounded
'It's fine if a drone gets destroyed or broken, but you can't replace people's lives'
When a disaster happens, everybody wants that perfect shot — that iconic photo or video footage.
So it's no surprise that when disasters, like the Fort McMurray fire, happen people often try to film them with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, better known as drones.
"It doesn't take much to get up above the trees and get a different vantage point that's never been seen," said Mat L. Matthews, a certified Edmonton drone operator and instructor.
But while they may get you that once-in-a-lifetime shot, they also put people at risk, Matthews said.
When a wildfire starts, the air around it immediately becomes a restricted airspace. Drones that do fly unauthorized in the area risk grounding firefighting aircraft.
On Thursday, wildfire manager Chad Morrison said they were investigating an incident involving a drone within Fort McMurray.
He also reinforced the severity of what could happen should a drone come into contact with aircraft .
"Anything that can get caught up in the rotor can cause damages. It's not just a bird strike, right? It can be quite serious and cause aircraft to fail," Morrison said.
"The consequences can be dire. There is no margin or room for error when you're talking aircraft safety. It's fine if a drone gets destroyed or broken but you can't replace people's lives".
He asked for all drone activity in the area to stop immediately.
The consequences can be dire. There is no margin or room for error when you're talking aircraft safety.- Chad Morrison
In 2015, during a southern B.C. wildfire, drones flying in the area grounded eight helicopters and five skimmers.
Federal regulations ban the use of drones near wildfires, and violators can face penalties of up to $25,000 and 18 months in jail.
The length of the no-fly zone can change based on the situation. Matthew's said that at times the ban extended as far as 50 kilometres from the perimeter of the fire.
"You've got to follow the legislation. The UAV legislation exists for the safety of the operator, the public and manned aircraft. Airspace coordination is critical."
But not everybody listens.
Matthews said that he's seen drone footage that has come from inside the no-fly zone in Fort McMurray.
"There's going to be answers that need to be had, as a result of some footage that has gone up," Matthews said.
The message to recreational and professional drone pilots currently in Fort McMurray is simple, he said.
"If people want to know if they can fly their drones, the answer is a very harsh 'no' right now," said Matthews.
"Don't even ask."