A privately operated drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle) caused concern on the Sand Fire south of Placerville, California on Sunday. The person that was controlling the aircraft and getting video footage of the blaze was told by authorities to stop because of the potential danger to helicopters, lead planes, and air tankers flying over the fire.
A video shot from the drone was uploaded to YouTube showing that the aircraft was directly over the fire, which could have been a serious hazard to helicopters and air tankers operating at 50 to 180 feet above the ground.
There are reports that Air Attack, when informed of the drone, came close to grounding all firefighting aircraft until the threat could be mitigated. However the operator was found and instead, the drone was grounded.
Last month the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior issued an Interagency Aviation Safety Alert about the hazards of unmanned aerial vehicles operating near wildfires.
A person would think that a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) which was probably in effect over the fire would prohibit all non-authorized aircraft including drones under 400 feet, from operating in the area. If so, then penalties could be applicable. A pilot of an airplane can lose their pilot’s license for 90 days or so if they bust a TFR. Of course a doofus who buys $1,000 worth of drone and does stupid things with it has no license to begin with.
This problem will get worse before it gets better. There will be more and more consumer-grade drones flying around and keeping them out of fire areas is going to be very difficult.
As we have said before, Air Attack needs to live up to its name and be armed with air to air missiles (kidding!). (EDIT: Or, as we said in a comment, some of the Air-Cranes have a front mounted water cannon that could be very effective, non-lethal [except to the drone], and would not start additional fires!)