Officers with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection arrested a Placer County man Friday who allegedly interfered with firefighting operations recently on the Trailhead Fire by flying a drone over the fire, forcing fire managers to ground aircraft rather than risk a collision.
Information posted on social media helped lead law enforcement officers to Eric Wamser, 57, of Foresthill. He was arrested Friday afternoon, booked into the Placer County jail in Auburn and charged with interfering with firefighting operations. This is the first arrest by CAL FIRE law enforcement of a drone operator for interfering with firefighting.
Chief of CAL FIRE Ken Pimlott sent out a Tweet Friday night saying, “We will seek to prosecute those who put the public and our firefighters in peril with irresponsible use of drones.”
Mr. Wamser’s alleged actions delayed aerial firefighting on a fire burning in the steep canyon along the Middle Fork of the American River near Todd Valley. The Trailhead Fire started June 28 and is now 98 percent contained, according to CAL FIRE. It burned more than 5,600 acres and forced hundreds of residents of Placer and El Dorado counties to evacuate.
“The Trailhead Fire was burning in such a remote area that our aircraft were critical to stopping the fire,” said Chief George Morris III, 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.”