The BC Wildfire Service is reminding the public that they must stay clear of firefighting aircraft and active wildfires. This includes the operation of watercraft and drones.
British Columbia’s fire management specialists, hardworking firefighters, aircraft and contracted firefighters need plenty of room to conduct this challenging work. Such interference can reduce the effectiveness of fire suppression activities and pose safety risks to both the public and the BC Wildfire Service personnel.
Due to current weather patterns resulting in increased susceptibility of new fire starts, increased wildfire activity and rapid spread of new ignitions it is imperative that initial attack efforts are not obstructed.
When firefighting aircraft such as airtankers or helicopters are working on an active wildfire and picking up water from nearby lakes, they need plenty of room to manoeuvre to do their job safely. Recreational boaters or people using other watercraft who try to get a close-up look at these aircraft present a serious safety risk for air crews and anyone else in the area.
This behaviour is extremely dangerous and interferes with the BC Wildfire Service’s ability to fight a fire, since a pilot cannot collect water when a boat is in its intended flight path. Such interference can reduce the effectiveness of fire suppression activities and pose safety risks to both the public and first responders.
If a boater gets in the way of an airtanker, helicopter or other firefighting aircraft, the incident will be investigated by the ministry’s Compliance and Enforcement Branch, the Conservation Officer Service and/or the RCMP.
Transport Canada and the BC Wildfire Service explicitly prohibit the use of UAVs near a wildfire. All wildfires are automatically “flight restricted” according to the federal Canadian Aviation Regulations. The restricted area is within a radius of five nautical miles around the fire and to an altitude of 3,000 feet above ground level. The use of UAVs within this restricted airspace is illegal.
Flying a UAV in the restricted airspace near a wildfire is dangerous and poses a significant safety risk to aviation resources and ground crews. A collision between aviation resources and a UAV could have fatal consequences.
The presence of a UAV or drone near a wildfire can slow down or completely shut down all aviation resources on the fire, due to safety concerns. It may also slow or shut down ground crew operations. This has happened a few times in recent years and has delayed the BC Wildfire Service’s firefighting response.
There is zero tolerance for people who fly drones in active wildfire areas. Anyone found interfering with wildfire control efforts, including flying drones or UAVs, can face penalties up to $100,000 and/or up to one year in jail.
The BC Wildfire Service has implemented safety protocols and strategies while conducting its operations to minimize COVID-19 exposure risks to its personnel and communities:
- All BCWS personnel conduct daily COVID-19 self-assessments before going to worksites and are required to report any symptoms to their direct supervisor.
- Staff members are required to physically distance, sanitize, and wear masks in all indoor areas. Groups sizes are limited in accordance with provincial directives.
- Staff members share information electronically whenever possible, instead of in person.
BC Wildfire Service personnel adhere to COVID-19 public health orders and guidelines to ensure that operations can continue safely throughout the province.