Drones endangering lives of Air Corps crews

Air Corps crews’ lives are being put at risk by reckless drone operators, who are directing them into areas where Air Corps helicopters are fighting wildfires.

For the past six days, the Air Corps has been tackling gorse and forest fires around the country, transporting water from lakes and reservoirs in large buckets attached to the underside of helicopters.

Drone users, who are attempting to get footage of the fires, are flying them into the areas where the helicopters are operating, often when visibility is restricted because of smoke.

The Air Corps said that operating drones or UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) within or near wildfires, without permission, could cause injury or death to firefighters or hamper their ability to protect lives, property, and natural resources.

Firefighting might have to be suspended because of drone incursions, leaving fires unattended.

The Defence Forces press office said it had deployed “Air Corps heli-assets” on firefighting operations for six consecutive days in a bid to stop the spread of wildfires in remote regions.

Following a request from the civil authorities, the Air Corps has responded to wildfires in Dublin, Wicklow, Limerick, Cork, Tipperary, and Offaly and has dropped 300,000 litres of water, using specialised equipment.

Agusta Westland AW139 helicopters have been utilised, as they can be equipped with a “Bambi” bucket, aerial-firefighting system capable of dropping 1,200 litres of water per pass.

This amount of water, concentrated in a small area, makes an immediate impact on wildfires.

The Air Corps have also provided a Eurocopter EC135 as a command-and-control unit and a CASA CN235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, which is equipped with power sensors and radar, to identify other areas affected throughout Ireland.

“These operations are ongoing and the Defence Forces are prepared to continue firefighting operations in support of our communities,” a spokesman said.

The army deployed 75 personnel to the Slieve Bloom mountains yesterday to help fire brigades contain a major blaze.

Coillte is reiterating its appeals to the public to be extra vigilant about the dangers of wildfires, as the dry weather is forecast to continue into next week.

Coillte urged people to immediately report, to gardaí, any suspicious activity regarding the setting of fires.

A spokesman for the company said people should not approach forest fires under any circumstance and that forest entrances should be kept clear at all times for emergency services.

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