NorCal Man Becomes First in California to Be Arrested for Flying Drone Into Firefighting Zone

I normally don't like to post extremely short blogs that just link to another article, but I think this has been a long time coming. 

I can't say that I hope for severe charges/fines against the operator (at this time), but I do hope that we only have to put up with one more season of seeing this in the news every other day. 

LINK

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A Foresthill man has been arrested on suspicion of interfering with firefighting operations during the recent Trailhead Fire by flying a drone over the fire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The presence of the drone forced Cal Fire to ground firefighting aircraft due to the risk of a collision.

Information posted on social media helped lead Cal Fire law enforcement officers to 57-year-old Eric Wamser. He was arrested Friday afternoon and booked into the Placer County jail.

This is the first arrest by Cal Fire law enforcement of a drone operator on suspicion of interfering with firefighting, according to a Cal Fire news release.

Over the past two years, fire officials say they have seen increasing numbers of hobby drones flying over wildfires and interfering with aerial firefighting operations.

Air tankers and firefighting helicopters fly at low altitudes to drop fire retardant and water. When drones fly in the same air space, fire officials are forced to pull back aircraft to prevent a collision. Fire officials stress that hobby drones should never be flown in or around fire areas.

Officials say Wamser’s actions delayed aerial firefighting on a fire burning in the steep canyon of the middle fork of the American River near Todd Valley.

The Trailhead Fire started June 28 and was reported 98 percent contained Saturday. It burned more than 5,600 acres and forced hundreds of residents in Placer and El Dorado counties to evacuate their homes.

Wamser is suspected of flying his hobby drone over the fire during the evening of June 28 to take video and photos, Cal Fire officials said.

“The Trailhead Fire was burning in such a remote area that our aircraft were critical to stopping the fire,” Chief George Morris III, Cal Fire’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer unit chief, said in a written statement. “Every minute we couldn’t fly our aircraft because of this drone, the fire was able to grow and do more damage.”

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Comment by Billy B on July 16, 2016 at 10:17pm

California man strikes again.

Comment by A Lurker on July 17, 2016 at 9:14am
This just screams "what was this guy thinking?" and "clueless box-buyer" on so many levels.
Comment by Gary McCray on July 17, 2016 at 6:02pm

In spite of much talk here to the contrary, the reality is a lot of these things (almost certainly most) are purchased in the US by people with no previous experience and with absolutely no idea what they should or shouldn't do.

And as for the "safety" and regulatory information provided in the packaging, Americans have learned decades ago to ignore completely if not immediately throw out the reams of assorted safety information that the government now mandates accompany everything from toothpaste to 50 caliber rifles.

Basically the great unwashed general public has no idea at all what they are doing with these things and changing that is going to be slow, public and painful.

That said, I think the general policy of immediately grounding all emergency service (firefighting in this case) airplanes if a drone of any sort is spotted anywhere at all is bollocks.

It is simply another part of the risk - reward matrix, and the fire service routinely ignores things that represent much higher risks than this.

A drone hasn't killed one firefighter yet, hundreds and probably thousands of them have died from poorly planned jumps, escape routes and aging airplanes that were ready to fall apart anyway.

Singling out "DRONES" as an unacceptable risk is ridiculous, risk is these guys business, not avoiding it.

Basically that part of it is just them making noise because they can.

Could a Phantom take out a Helicopter or a jet engine, probably, but I'll bet that it will take a lot of impact encounters before one finally does.

Not saying you don't need to come down on violators like a ton of bricks, just that you need to actually weigh the risk when making decisions to withhold services, not just make a blanket exclusion.

Comment by Kay Fricke on July 18, 2016 at 12:09pm

Dear Fellow Propeller Heads,

i think we need a constructive discussion on this. 

To me it seems clear that we have to distinct between us diyer, even the begiiners, who learned a lot while in the build phase asking other people how to go.

Even here people harm themselves or others, just by typical human errors.

Tose John and Jane Doe's, buying copters of the shelf are not getting enough introduction into their new hobby. Even in those shops offering a free flightschool, when you buy stuff, are only getting a max of 10% of the buyers to attend those lessons.

So I think it's a necessity to make a basic training an obligation to buy a copter, that is before, not after buy.

thats my 2 cents

Comment by Gary McCray on July 18, 2016 at 1:38pm

In the days before "Drones" and even before "Park Flyers", the normal entry in the US into RC flying was through the AMA (American Modlers Association).

In the US there are AMA clubs and flying fields everywhere, even here in the middle of nowhere Fort Bragg, CA.

In the AMA local club one or more members would assist you with every phase of learning how to fly at there sanctioned field.

Now it isn't like that at all and is just a giant free for all or the "Wild West".

While it is true that if everything worked perfectly, modern drones like the Phantom or Solo can be flown semi-autonomously fairly well even by complete neophytes, it is also true that the "everything working perfectly" window can be very small.

GPS alone is fraught with difficulties, multipath and blockages and the automatic modes on these drones are utterly dependent on it always working perfectly.

Which it absolutely does not do a very significant portion of the time and definitely not at all under a lot of circumstances that beginners don't know how to avoid.

If you actually know how to manually fly the "drone", you can usually regain control when one of the autonomous things loses it's way, if you don't - mayhem follows.

The bare and simple truth of the matter is, you really need to learn how to competently fly one of these things manually before you ever even attempt your first autonomous or semi-autonomous flights.

I don't know that you actually need to have lessons for this as even manual flight is pretty simple these days, you just need to know when , where and how to learn it.

And you need to be telling the purchasers of this stuff that that is absolutely what they need to do to keep from throwing $1000.00 plus in the trash, or worse suffering significant injury or legal litigation.

Sadly all the manufacturers are busy touting how easy these things are to fly autonomously, how there is really nothing to it, so the correct message totally fails to reach the people who need it most.

Capitalism these days is all about making as much money as possible in as short a period of time as possible.

If you tell people it might be a significant effort that they need to put in to fly you will make less sales.

I hope the soon to be forthcoming lawsuits might cause the manufacturers to rethink how they handle this process.

Best regards,

Gary

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