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State Fire Marshal Worried Changes To Drone Law To Hurt Firefighting Efforts

Last week, a federal appeals court struck down a Federal Aviation Administration rule that required hobbyist drone owners to register their craft. Now, one agency is worried the ruling could hamper efforts to keep drones away from forest fires.

Almost a year ago, the Cedar Fire burned nearly 46,000 acres in eastern Arizona. Firefighters faced the usual hurdles, low humidity and winds. They also had to deal with drones violating restricted airspace. Jeff Whitney is the state fire marshal.

"The hobbyist is going to remain a concern we’ve got some public outreach and some public service announcements encouraging and cautioning. It’s going to continue to be a challenge for us, but it’s something we’re trying to manage," Whitney said.

Often a temporary flight restriction goes into effect around wildfires to protect firefighting air tankers and helicopters. If a drone enters restricted airspace, firefighting operations are grounded, restricting efforts to contain a blaze.

KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.