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The danger of drones in wildfire zones

Drones have no place in restricted airspace surrounding wildfires, according to B.C. Wildfire. Oliver RCMP continue to investigate a drone sighting over the Testalinden Creek fire south of Oliver on Sunday, August 17, 2015.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
August 17, 2015 - 2:30 PM

PENTICTON - One of the members of the B.C. Wildfire aircrew who spotted the drone flying over the Testalinden Creek fire near Oliver Sunday says it was pure luck they saw the unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV.

The errant drone prompted an immediate grounding of eight helicopters and five planes, and as a result, the fire jumped containment lines, B.C. Wildfire air attack officer Derek Sommerville says.

Sommerville says when the fixed-wing aircraft he was in entered the fire zone yesterday, Aug. 16, the pilot spotted the UAV.

“It was just luck... It was very difficult to see, but we were in the right position and the sunlight hit it in just the right way," he says.

He says aircrews always look for hazards before flying into the fire zone.

Sommerville says the pilot looped round several times, trying to find the device again, but they couldn't see it. They did radio the other pilots working in the area to warn them about the danger.

Both Transport Canada and the B.C. Wildfire Service prohibit the use of drones near a wildfire. All wildfires are considered to be “flight restricted” within a radius of five nautical miles around the fire, to an altitude of 3,000 above ground level.

Sommerville says drones pose a significant hazard to the aircrews and the firefighters on the ground.

"(Sunday’s) incident resulted in us withdrawing air support, which resulted in the fire breaching containment lines and growing," he says. "If we had been able to keep at it, we could have kept the fire from growing.”

Sommerville says the RCMP sent a helicopter to the area to search for the drone and it's operator. Oliver RCMP continue to investigate.

Earlier this month, aerial firefighting efforts were suspended over the Westside Road fire when several drones were seen flying in the restricted airspace of the fire zone.

The recreational use of drones is on the rise in Canada as the devices get more affordable, leaving some experts to believe Canada’s enforcement regulations and public awareness regarding their use needs to increase.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at sarstad@infonews.ca or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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