July 31, 2017 10:15 a.m.
A week ago Sunday a grass fire off Interstate Five in the Grants Pass area was quickly knocked down however officials with the Oregon Department of Forestry say that every firefighter on the ground and in the air faced an additional risk when a hobby drone was spotted in the sky.
Melissa Cano of the Oregon Department of Forestry says the fire was called in just after 4:00 p.m. on July 23rd. Within minutes multiple agencies were sending equipment and firefighters to the scene. A helicopter was requested to perform a reconnaissance mission along the I-5 corridor to make sure the fire did not spot or spread to areas that firefighters on the ground could not see. A crew member spotted a drone heading towards the active fire scene just moments after the helicopter changed directions. The pilot was immediately contacted and left the area to create a distance between himself and the drone, and then landed at the Grants Pass ODF headquarters. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.
ODF Southwest District Forester, Dave Larson, says that drones jeopardize the safety of their pilots, firefighters and the public. He is asking people to spread the message so that a drone interfering with a firefighting operation does not happen again.
This is the first time that aerial operations have been grounded by a drone, in the Southwest Oregon District.
The release from the Oregon Department of Forestry says that when drones interfere with firefighting efforts, a wildfire has the potential to grow larger and cause more damage.
Recreational drone use on a wildfire is prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration. Drone operators who interfere with wildfire suppression efforts are subject to civil penalties of up to $27,500 and possible criminal prosecution.