Drone delays wildfire fight in northern Arizona - Tucson News Now

Drone delays wildfire fight in northern Arizona

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
WILLIAMS, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A small wildfire nearly turned into a big problem because of a drone, forcing crews to hold back a helicopter with water.

The fire broke out Thursday, June 15, on the southwest side of Cemetery Hill in Williams, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It burned less than a quarter of a mile away from homes when firefighters arrived and requested help from a chopper at the nearby Williams airport.

Before the helicopter could get off the ground, a fire incident commander spotted the drone over the fire, delaying takeoff while the Coconino County Sheriff's Office looked for the drone operator. Deputies didn't find the operator, but the drone eventually flew away.

With the help of the chopper's water drops, crews contained the fire at less than an acre. No buildings burned.

“People may be flying a drone thinking it’s cool to get video footage of a wildfire, but they don’t realize the impacts they have on our ability to do our jobs,” incident commander Mike Uebel said in a news release. “Sometimes your actions that seem harmless can have major impacts to the safety of firefighters and to the safety of our community. If we can’t respond, we can’t put out the fire.”

In addition to holding up firefighting aircraft if they're spotted, drones can get sucked into aircraft engines causing malfunctions that could lead to a crash.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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