READYColorado Blog: If you fly, We Can't

An unmanned aircraft system (UAS), sometimes called a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot onboard – instead, the UAS is controlled from an operator on the ground.

When you fly a drone in the United States, it is your responsibility to understand and abide by the rules and the “No Drone Zones” established during wildland fires.  During the month of June there have been times that drones caused wildland fire aircraft to be grounded during fires, including the 416 Fire. 

UAS Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility

That means following the rules:

  • Don’t fly over people and respect the privacy of anyone on the ground.
  • Don’t fly near other aircraft or in restricted airspace, such as “No Drone Zones.”
  • The US Forest Service wants to remind drone pilots “If you Fly, We Can’t.”
    • Individuals and organizations that fly UAS on National Forest System lands must follow FAA guidance.  This stipulates that a UAS must not interfere with manned aircraft, must be flown within sight of the operator and operated only for hobby or recreational purposes.
      • Flying drones or UAS within or near wildfires without permission could cause injury or death to firefighters and hamper their ability to protect lives, property, and natural cultural resources.
      • Fire managers may suspend aerial firefighting until unauthorized UAS leave the area, which could allow a wildfire to grow larger.
    • If you want to know more about this, contact your nearest Land Management Agency office to find out more about UAS and public lands or the U.S. Forest Service Website.

UAS Guidance on National Forest Lands

  • Individuals and organizations may fly UAS for hobby or recreational purposes in compliance with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft(link is external) (Section 336 of Public Law 112-95). 
  • UAS must be flown below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles.
  • UAS are considered to be both “motorized equipment” and “mechanical transport” as such they cannot take off from, land in, or be operated from congressionally designated Wilderness Areas.  
  • UAS are not permitted to fly in areas that have “Temporary Flight Restrictions” (TFR) in place.  You can search the FAA website for current TFRs by clicking here.
  • Never fly your UAS over or in close proximity to any fire operation (wildfire or prescribed).  UAS flights over fire operations disrupt aerial firefighting operations and create hazardous situations.  
  • The Forest Service regularly flies aircraft at low altitudes to perform natural resource management. It is the UAS Operator’s responsibility to be aware of these flights and take the steps necessary to avoid them. Contact the local Ranger District Office or the FAA for scheduled flights in the area.     

Safety Tips for UAS Users

  • Keep your UAS within your visual line of sight at all times. 
  • Take lessons and learn to operate your UAS safely.
  • Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations.
  • Fly your UAS at least 5 miles from an airport or backcountry airstrip.
  • UAS should not be flown over or in close proximity to populated and noise-sensitive areas, such as campgrounds, trail heads, and visitor centers.
  • Obey all privacy laws.
  • Follow FAA regulations when flying your UAS. 



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