Drone impedes firefighting efforts in Arizona

Flagstaff, Arizona

The Museum Fire that spread across roughly 2,000-acre near Flagstaff, Arizona, on 21 July, is still threatening the properties and lives of the community. And operations to stop the spread and ultimately clear the wildfire have been stunted by the presence of an unlicensed unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that has been flying in the area

Spotted in the southeast of the blaze by firefighters working to tackle the conflagration, the drone has prevented firefighting helicopters from carrying out operations in that region, as to do so would risk the lives of the crew.

“[Drones] not only endanger the lives of pilots and firefighters, but also reduce the capacity of the Incident Management Team to protect the communities of Flagstaff and Summit,” an update from the Southwest Area Incident Management team read.

Jennifer Jones, spokeswoman for the Forest Service’s National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, added: “Most members of the public would never dream of standing in front of a fire engine to stop it from getting to a wildfire, but that’s essentially what they’re doing to aerial firefighting aircraft when they fly a drone over or near a wildfire.”

As of Sunday 28 July, the fire had been 61 per cent contained, according to Coconino National Forest officials. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.