Minnesota’s wildland fire management agencies have reported more than 500 wildland fires throughout the state that have burned nearly 20,000 acres since the beginning of March.
Locally, several fires, including one on Frank’s Island, Black Bay, Rainy Lake, required state and local firefighters to respond, and in that case by boat.
The increase in spring wildfire activity is occurring in the driest parts of the state, including Koochiching County, which remains in high fire danger, as designated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
At this time, burning permits are required in all counties in Minnesota. And Koochiching County is among many in the state enforcing burning restrictions today.
Lars Helleloid, DNR forester and wildland firefighter, said the green up may mislead people into thinking the area has had adequate moisture, reducing fire danger.
That’s not the case, he said. Despite the greenery, dry grass and wood can ignite easily, and with recent high winds can spread quickly.
He urged anyone who feels the need for a campfire to be sure they had drenched the fire with water, and that no embers or warmth remain before leaving the area.
At times, the safety of wildland firefighters and the public require the use of aircraft to assist by dropping water or fire retardant as well as directing firefighters on the ground.
When a drone, or unmanned aircraft system, shows up near restricted wildfire airspace, all aircraft responding to that wildfire are required to land or return to base until the air space is clear, said Leanne Langeberg, public information officer with the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center.
“That’s valuable time that could be used to slow down and suppress the spread of a wildfire,” she said.
The use of any UAS, or drone, may be restricted within five miles of a wildland fire due to temporary flight restrictions, or TFR.
Even without a TFR, drones pose an extremely dangerous risk to aircraft., remind the fire staff working at the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, made up of a group of seven state and federal agencies.
“While most drone pilots know the regulations and the importance of not flying near wildfires, drone incursions continue to happen in Minnesota,” said Leanne Langeberg, public information officer with the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. “One incursion is too many. We can’t risk the distraction. When you fly, we can’t.”
Langeberg said it’s not uncommon to have up to 40 aircraft responding to active wildfires throughout the state during high fire periods in Minnesota. Often, wildfires can have three or more aircraft sharing the same low-level airspace that drones typically fly.
In fast-moving and smoke-filled conditions, pilots need to be focused on their efforts to extinguish the flames.
“While drones may have incredible capabilities, using drones to capture photos and video during a wildfire is not worth the risk to firefighters or the public,” she said. “If you see an active wildland fire, think safety first and drop the drone.