Drone bloke cuffed after gizmo stops firemen tackling forest inferno

Blaze-gawping flying cam shoos away vital helicopters

A man was arrested by officers from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection after his drone allegedly got in the way of them tackling a major blaze.

Eric Wamser, 57, of Foresthill, California, was cuffed on Friday after posting drone-shot footage of the Trailhead Fire, which has burned for three weeks and destroyed more than 5,600 acres of forest and many homes. He is accused of flying his drone over the flames last month, impeding attempts to bring the blaze under control.

"When a hobby drone flies in the path of our aircraft, we have no choice but to pull back our airtankers and helicopters until the drone is removed," said Chief Dave Teter, CAL FIRE deputy director of fire protection. "For hobby drone operators, it's pretty simple: when you fly, we can't! No hobby drones over fire zones."

In an attempt to suppress the Trailhead inferno, firefighters used helicopters and aircraft to drop water and retardants onto the flames. Drones, while small, are large enough to risk crashing any aircraft they hit. All planes and helicopters had to pull out of the area until the quadcopter had departed.

Youtube Video

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

The popularity of non-commercial drones has been growing fast and this isn't the first time California firefighters have been stymied by amateur aerial artistes. Last year the Interstate 15 fire near Cajon Pass in southern California left cars toasted on the freeway after drones forced firefighters to abandon fire suppression by air.

That case led to legislatures calling for new laws to allow the emergency services to blast drones out of the sky if they interfere. To date, it hasn't made it onto the statute books, so Wamser was charged with interfering with firefighting operations, a crime covered by penal code section 148.2 of California state laws. ®

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