California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) law enforcement officers have arrested a man who allegedly interfered with firefighting operations by flying a drone over the Trailhead Fire, a wildfire that has been burning since June 28 in Northern California.
CAL FIRE says the department was forced to ground its aircraft rather than risk a collision with the drone. The alleged actions delayed aerial firefighting in the steep canyon along the Middle Fork of the American River near Todd Valley.
The Trailhead Fire, which is now almost contained, burned more than 5,600 acres and forced hundreds of residents of Placer and El Dorado counties to evacuate, says CAL FIRE. The man allegedly flew his hobby drone over the fire during the evening of June 28 to take video and photos.
Information posted on social media helped lead law enforcement officers to Eric Wamser, 57, of Foresthill. He was arrested on July 15, booked into the Placer County jail in Auburn and charged with interfering with firefighting operations, Penal Code Section 148.2.
CAL FIRE says this is its first arrest of a drone operator for allegedly interfering with firefighting.
“When a hobby drone flies in the path of our aircraft, we have no choice but to pull back our airtankers and helicopters until the drone is removed,” says Chief Dave Teter, CAL FIRE’s deputy director of fire protection. “For hobby drone operators, it’s pretty simple: when you fly, we can’t! No hobby drones over fire zones.”
“The Trailhead Fire was burning in such a remote area that our aircraft were critical to stopping the fire,” adds Chief George Morris III, CAL FIRE’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer unit chief. “Every minute we couldn’t fly our aircraft because of this drone, the fire was able to grow and do more damage.”