“All requests … to get firefighting aircraft airborne again were rejected because the firefighting pilots are defenseless against drones that come too close,” said BLM spokesman Christian Venhuizen.
A plague of drones — those increasingly popular small, remote-controlled aircraft — continue to interrupt critical fire-retardant- and water-dumping flights over southern Utah wildfires.
On Monday, a drone came within feet of a helicopter over the then-400-acre Saddle Fire, not only halting its mission, but endangering the crew. That incident — the third in three days — came despite repeated warnings that flying drones over 5 mile-diameter restricted air space could lead to misdemeanor or felony arrests and charges.
“This is an attack on the safety and wellbeing of our flight crews and our aircraft,” said Chris Henrie, fire incident commander. “This stopped a significant effort to protect the residents of Pine Valley and could have killed our flight crew.”
In addition to federal Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service personnel, state and Washington County sheriff’s deputies look to prevent further drone intrusions and bring their pilots to justice.
On Tuesday afternoon, the sheriff’s office offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the drone operator from Monday’s incident.
A Utah statute that took effect in May prohibits any unmanned aircraft from flying in “an area designated as a wildland fire scene.” The owners of drones flying in wildfire areas face penalties of up to $275,000 and three years in jail. Offenders also can face other state and federal charges, including various misdemeanors and felonies.
The recent drone incidents have made tanker and helicopter crews leery of going back into the smoky skies over the still out-of-control Saddle Fire, burning in grass, brush, juniper and pinyon about two miles southwest of the town of Pine Valley.
Local residents have received “reverse 911” calls regarding the drone pilot and the suspension of aerial resources responding to the fire. A door-to-door campaign also was planned Tuesday to educate the public and develop leads on the pilot or pilots.
Anyone with information on the drones or their pilots is urged to call the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 435-634-5734.
I am amazed why anybody thinks this is OK much less a good idea. If you read the rest of the article you will find out that hundreds of people have been evacuated and the fire at the time was not under control.