Thunder Bay

Drone near northwestern Ontario forest fire prompts warning

Drone operators in northwestern Ontario are being reminded that flying the unmanned vehicles too close to a forest fire is not only dangerous, it's illegal.

Fines for offenders can be in the thousands of dollars, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says

As the 2018 forest fire season starts, wildfire officials are warning people that the blazes are no-drone zones. (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

Drone operators in northwestern Ontario are being reminded that flying the unmanned vehicles too close to a forest fire is not only dangerous, it's illegal.

The warning from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry's fire information office comes after a drone reportedly flew near a forest fire this year in the Fort Frances area, officials said.

"There is the issue, of course, of a mid-air collision, a drone could strike aircraft flying over the fire which is why these regulations were put in place," said Jonathan Scott, a fire information officer based out of Dryden, adding that drones cannot fly within nine kilometres of a fire.

"Also, if we do see a drone over a forest fire, for safety precautions, we'd have to pull aircraft off the fire which would have negative repercussions on suppression efforts on the fire."

A number of drone operators themselves blasted such an incident in British Columbia in 2015, after a stray unmanned vehicle grounded a number of aircraft for hours that were fighting a wildfire in the southern interior.

Fortunately, Scott said, the drone near the fire this year didn't cause any problems for aerial fire crews as there were no aircraft assigned to fight the fire. Still, he said, it can be a costly mistake, as offenders can be burned for thousands of dollars in fines.

"We felt the need to notify the public that flying a drone around a forest fire is both dangerous and illegal and it can really jeopardize people working on the fire," Scott said.

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