Drone disrupts wildfire mission in California

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif., June 26 (UPI) — Firefighters flying to dump flame retardant on a wildfire in the San Bernardino Forest were hindered by interference from a drone.

Winds had shifted the fire toward the Onyx Peak area late Wednesday, an area where homes are located along dry pines.

With a plane loaded with 10,800 gallons of retardant, firefighters headed to the rescue.

But the plane’s arrival was hindered by the trespassing of a drone.

An incident commander on the ground spotted the “hobby drone” hovering near the drop site at 11,000 feet. Unable to identify the drone’s owner, the air tanker and the two smaller planes accompanying it had to turn back.

During a news conference at the San Bernardino Forest Airtanker Base, forest aviation officer Mike Eaton they were “not able to track the aircraft back to its source or whoever was controlling it.”

“With that, we shut the aircraft down for the rest of the day — it limited our ability to fight the fire,” he said. “It’s not just the fact that it shut us down — the fire certainly grew.”

Because of the drone’s interference and the aircraft’s inability to drop retardant, fire containment dropped from 27 percent on Wednesday to 19 percent Thursday evening.

Firefighters are also battling flames in Northern California, Oregon and Alaska.

A wildfire grew more than 26 square miles in inaccessible terrain in Northern California, south of Lake Tahoe, prompting evacuations.

Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, expressed his frustration in a tweet reading, “Tonight a hobby drone grounded firefighting aircraft by flying over the #LakeFire. When you fly…we CAN’T! Puts our pilots lives at risk.”

Tonight a hobby drone grounded firefighting aircraft by flying over the #LakeFire. When you fly…we CAN’T! Puts our pilots lives at risk.— CAL FIRE PIO Berlant (@CALFIRE_PIO) June 25, 2015

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