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Drone Grounds Aircraft Battling Sundance Fire

OAKHURST – In the midst of a firefight along Road 420 this afternoon, while residents were evacuating, crews were cutting fireline, and tankers and helicopters were dropping water and retardant, two tankers were forced to return to Fresno with half their load undelivered, and three helicopters were grounded when someone decided to fly a drone over the Sundance Fire south of Oakhurst.

“Having a drone in the area made it very difficult to suppress the fire,” says Cal Fire Prevention Specialist Karen Guillemin-Kanawyer. “It’s a life threat to our crews, our aircraft and our pilots, and I can’t comprehend why anyone would do that.”

This is just one of many incidents across California during this very dangerous fire season when aircraft have been grounded due to errant drones. Air tankers and helicopters fly at low altitudes, and a drone over a fire could cause a collision, endangering the lives of pilots and crew.

The drone encroached on the air space just as efforts were being made to catch a spot fire that had jumped across to the north side of the road, says Guillemin-Kanawyer. After flying over the fire, the drone flew off to the north towards Oakhurst.

Even with the potentially disastrous drone incident, firefighters managed to catch the spot fire and hold it at about 1/4 acre. Forward progress of the main fire was stopped at 7:10 p.m., and the fire is 60 percent contained at this hour.

A reminder that the containment number does not mean that there isn’t a line around the entire perimeter; only that fire officials are 100 percent confident with 60 percent of the fireline, and crews continue to improve and strengthen the remaining perimeter.

Crews will be on the fire all night, and again tomorrow, working to strengthen firelines and do mop-up.

Guillemin-Kanawyer reminds the public that before they go outside to engage in any activity involving heat or equipment, to stop and think fire prevention first.

“Fuels are at an all time critical low levels, and any fire that starts could be catastrophic.”

Residents who were evacuated from the area along, and south of Road 420 were allowed to return to their homes at 8 p.m. tonight. The area will be closed to the public until 6 a.m. tomorrow.

The Sundance Fire was reported at 3:35 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13. The cause is under investigation. No structures were lost.

As for the drones, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) and Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) have introduced Senate Bill 168, allowing emergency responders to be free from liability if they destroy unmanned aircraft that are interfering with their ability to do their jobs.  https://legiscan.com/CA/text/SB168/2015

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