If you fly, we can't: USDA launches campaign to ground drones at wildfires

As we head into this fire season, a strong warning from the people who fight these wildfires in our state.

They've launched a campaign called "If you fly, then we can't."

That message is aimed at drone operators.

Whether in action over a fire or sitting on the tarmac at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the firefighting tanker plans look majestic and powerful.

Something as tiny as a hobby store drone can cause big problems for the DC-10 and the PV2 firefighting planes.

"They are so small and we have to be on top of them.. and it's a huge danger for all of us out there," said Kevin Hopf, a DC-10 captain who flies on wildfires across the southwest.

Hopf gave us a tour of the DC-10 tanker, describing it as maneuverable, powerful and effective in the fire fight.  He says drones could create a huge hazard.

The USDA -- the agency that oversees the National Forest Service -- is launching a new campaign: If you fly, we can't.  It's a warning to those who would fly drones around wildfires.

"Everybody loves to see the video and that's what they wanna go get, but it's a safety issue for our pilots of air tankers and our air attack," said Carrie Templin of the Tonto National Forest.

In fact, Templin says if they spot a drone, the pilots will land their firefighting tankers immediately for safety's sake.

"We have to shut down our air show because we're not able to talk to those people and we don't know who's in control at times.  Our biggest thing is if you fly, we can't," said Matt Huse, air tanker base manager.

There have been no incidences of drone and fire tanker collisions in Arizona, but Templin says there have been close calls in other states -- enough for them to want to raise the alarm.

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