Can you fly a drone above a forest fire?

Drones must be kept away from places where they could hamper the efforts of first responders.REUTERS/Handout
Drones must be kept away from places where they could hamper the efforts of first responders.REUTERS/Handout

Look up, look waaaaayyyy up!

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That little UFO-like gadget buzzing above your head around the treetops isn’t a figment of your imagination. It’s likely being operated by someone currently engaging in one of the most popular pastimes of hobbyists in the country – drone flying.

A drone, also known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is an aircraft that’s navigated without a human pilot on-board by controlling it from the ground using a GPS tracking system. Some drones are fitted with hi-tech digital cameras that have produced some astounding photos.

Canadian no-fly zones

Drones are flown by hobbyists and professionals alike and their use has come under some fire lately. Speaking of fire, there are places that people should not and indeed, cannot by law, fly their drones. These rules are in effect in every province and territory. Drone operators who think they’re going to send their units into a natural disaster area, should think twice. Operators can only fly their drones at least nine kilometers away from a natural hazard or disaster area. Another rule stipulates that drones must be kept away from places where they could hamper the efforts of first responders or police.

The rules for operating drones in Canada are more restrictive than those of our next-door neighbours. The United States allows drones to fly up to 400 feet and they don’t have a set restriction for flying near buildings. Americans can also fly drones at night. Canadians, by law, cannot. Here are some additional rules for operating drones in Canada:

  • Must be kept below 90 meters above the ground
  • Must be kept at least 30 meters away from vehicles, vessels and members of the public if the drone weighs more than 250 grams up to one kilogram and at least 75 meters away from the same if the drone weighs more than one kilogram up to 35 kilograms
  • Must be at least 5.5 kilometers away from aerodromes or any airport, seaplane base or areas where aircraft take off and land
  • Must be at least 1.8 kilometers away from heliports or any airport used by helicopters only
  • Must be outside of controlled or restricted airspace
  • Must only be flown in the day and out of clouds
  • Must be within the operator’s sight at all times
  • Must be within 500 meters or closer of the operator
  • Can only be flown if clearly marked with the owner’s name, address and phone number

Don’t get burned by the consequences of interfering with a forest fire

As for hazardous areas, drone fliers were recently cautioned to stay clear of any forest fires in heavily treed areas of British Columbia. Drones have impeded firefighting efforts in the past. Eight helicopters and five skimmers fighting a wildfire near Oliver in that province two years ago were grounded for hours when a stray drone flew too close. Drones were also spotted near wildfires last year in both British Columbia and Alberta.

In addition, if your drone weighs more than 250 grams and up to 35 kilograms, you can fly it without getting special permission from Transport Canada. Keep in mind though, that if your drone is spotted in an area where it shouldn’t be, you could get slapped with a fine of up to $3,000 – that is nearly 60 percent higher than U.S. fines that range up to a maximum of $1,414.
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