Incident: Lizard Fire Wildfire
Released: 30 min. ago
On June 10, 2017 Lizard Fire Public Information Officer Michelle Fidler interviewed Air Tactical Group Supervisor RJ Estes, who is responsible for directing and coordinating airborne aircraft operations and management for the incident's airspace.
Video of interview (to download the video, right click on the video and click "Save video as")
Video of interview with captions (to download the video, right click on the video and click "Save video as")
0ff camera public information officer: Can you tell me your name?
My name is RJ Estes.
And what is your title?
I’m an Air Tactical Group Supervisor
And what does that mean? What’s your job on the fire?
I coordinate all aerial resources over a fire. That includes firefighting aircraft, news media aircraft and law enforcement aircraft.
So how many aircraft could be working in the air at any given time?
On an average, about twenty.
So can you tell us, why are drones a concern?
Drones are a concern for us because we can’t see them. We can’t track them. We can track our aircraft. We know where they’re at. Drones are real small, hard to see, colors are very benign. They pose a problem to our aviators because they're in our flightpaths operating on the same levels we are. And if we can’t communicate with those aircraft, that being the drones, we can’t know where they’re at. And it’s important. We know where all our aircraft are. We need to know where they’re at.
So what happens if a drone is spotted in the airspace near a fire?
You know, if it’s spotted, generally we shut down all aviation operations, which poses a huge problem to not only our aviators and firefighters, but also the public, for possible loss of life and loss of property.
So what would happen if a drone impacted an aircraft? Is it possible there could be a collision mid-air?
There is a possibility, with us not knowing where those are at. While aircraft are fairly stout in nature, understand that they’re traveling at high speeds, kinetic energy. It’s probably not survivable. People need to know that if they fly, people are going to die.
And so what’s the best way for people to know? Can you tell us, is there a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in place, and what does that mean?
OK, there are. There’s two rules really. Generally there’s a temporary flight restriction in place on some of our large fires and extended attack fires and you can go to Know Before You Fly, the app or dot com to check that out. It’s your responsibility as an aviator to make sure that you’re not violating any FAA rules.
But there’s also times during initial attack where we’re first getting to the fires, a TFR may not be in place. And so just understand, any operation that you do that affects the firefighting operation, TFR or not, is still illegal.
So what you’re say is it’s important for folks not to fly near a wildfire. Is that true even if there’s no flames in the area?
That is absolutely true. Understand that there may not be any flames. There may be rehabilitation purposes going on. There may be troop shuttling, logistics missions. Just because they don’t see fire in the area, if they see firefighting aircraft, they should be grounded.
So even if you had to get an injured firefighter out, they wouldn’t be able to fly to go get them if there’s a drone in the area?
They would not. Nope, all aerial resources would be grounded.
OK, so ultimately what you’re saying is if you fly, we can’t. We need to have the public stay away from wildfires. It’s just not safe.
Absolutely. Yea. There’s… Understand that all these aviators and firefighters here have families and we want to go home at the end of the day.