Drone Takes to Sky Over Fire, Brings Controversy

EL DORADO COUNTY, CA - A drone that captured spectacular video of the Sand Fire in El Dorado and Amador counties led to controversy over its use in restricted airspace.

The pilot who flew the drone, and who wanted to remain anonymous, told News10 he only wanted to capture video to document the fire, show evacuated community members the fire's progress and showcase the hard work of firefighters.

"The efforts of the firefighters, that our firefighters do, they put their lives on the line," he said.

The images were captured by a $1,300 drone in high definition on Saturday, but by Sunday, as word of the video spread, fire operations staff made it clear the drone could not fly in restricted airspace.

"We've all seen when those helicopters drop, those air tankers, they come in awful low," said Cal Fire spokesman Ron Oatman.

The drone flew mostly near ground level, showing advancing flames and burning forest, but at times reached an altitude of about 150 feet.

"We had a bird strike a plane the other day and that plane had to be grounded and needed a little bit of maintenance," Oatman said, explaining that a drone could do significant damage to helicopters or airplanes fighting the fire, especially if it were to hit a rotor or propeller.

But drones are soon expected to become part of the arsenal used against fires.

"They're gonna be a great tool. Firefighters themselves are actually starting to look at it," Oatman said.

As for the pilot, he said he gets it.

"I definitely don't want to hinder any efforts to put out the fires," he said.


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