Drone halts airborne firefighting operations at Saddle Fire once again

Type III firefighting helicopter dipping a large bucket into a pool of water for use against the Saddle Fire, Pine Valley, June 28, 2016 | Photo courtesy of InciWeb, St. George News

PINE VALLEY – Once again, a drone sighting has halted aerial firefighting operations over the Saddle Fire. The latest incident occurred Friday night.

The drone appeared around 7 p.m., fire officials said in a statement, resulting in yet again grounding aircraft use due to the potential danger the drone poses to aircraft if a collision occurs. Both those in the sky and on the ground could be seriously injured or killed if a crash resulted.

“Everyone is reminded to never fly drones over a wildfire,” fire officials said in the statement. “If you fly, we can’t.”

There is a five mile temporary flight restriction currently over the Saddle Fire making it illegal to fly a drone in the area.

Both state and federal penalties exist for those who interfere with fire suppression activities due to playing with their drones in a fire zone.

Operating the drone in a wildfire area can result in a class B misdemeanor. If the drone flies into an aircraft and causes it to crash, that’s a second-degree felony.

The Saddle Fire as seen from Pine Valley, Utah, as of July 7, 2016 | Photo courtesy of InciWeb, St. George News
The Saddle Fire as seen from Pine Valley, Utah, as of July 7, 2016 | Photo courtesy of InciWeb, St. George News

On the federal level, fines can range from $1,000 up to $25,000.

The last drone incursion occurred June 20. The incident drew the ire of Gov. Gary Herbert during a visit to the Pine Valley area, as well as Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher.

“Home evacuations likely could have been avoided if drones had not interrupted air attack on the fire,” Herbert said. “That is completely unacceptable. Residents of Utah, stop flying drones over fires. Get out of the way and let firefighters do their job.”

As for Pulsipher, he said he would like to put the drone operator in jail.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Northwestern Special Service District are offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the drone operator who interfered in Saddle Fire suppression efforts.

The lightning-caused Saddle Fire ignited June 13 and has burned an estimated 2,168 acres as of Friday morning. The fire is currently 42 percent contained, with fire officials hoping for full containment by July 15.

Voluntary evacuations are still in place in Pine Valley south on Lloyd Canyon Drive at the Mahogany Lane intersection and south on Oakridge Drive and Mahogany Lane.

Pine Valley residents showing their support of the many firefighters who have descended on the small community to help combat the Saddle Fire, Pine Valley, Utah, June 30, 2016 | Photo courtesy of InciWeb, St. George News
Pine Valley residents showing their support of the many firefighters who have descended on the small community to help combat the Saddle Fire, Pine Valley, Utah, June 30, 2016 | Photo courtesy of InciWeb, St. George News

Fire fighting operations continue in Forsyth Canyon. The surrounding communities can expect to see continued fire activity and smoke impacting the region. Natural barriers on the main ridge south of Pine Valley and the 2005 Dammeron fire scar continue to prevent fire spread to the south.

The direct and indirect control lines around the north and west portions of the fire continue to prevent spread into the Pine Valley community.

These operations improved the already existing and new sections of the fuel break around the community and the Pine Valley Recreation Area. Fireline personnel are mopping up contained areas of the fire. Repair efforts have begun in places no longer affected by the fire.

There are now 242 personnel assigned. Resources include fire engines, heavy equipment and aircraft.

The Pine Valley Recreation Area in the Dixie National Forest remains closed to the public until safety concerns are mitigated.

For further information please follow the Dixie National Forest on Facebook, Twitter, and InciWeb. Residents may also sign up for Everbridge to receive notifications from the Washington County Emergency Alert System. Those experiencing problems with online registration may telephone 435-634-5734 for assistance.

St. George News Assistant Editor Kimberly Scott contributed to this article.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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18 Comments

  • anybody home July 9, 2016 at 10:29 am

    These jacka$$ drone operators are another fine example of the, “You’re not the boss of me” attitude of way too many punks (of any age) who don’t give a rip for the safety of others. Creating situations where people have to be evacuated from their homes and where more danger is created for those on the ground should be more than a misdemeanor. It should not take hitting a plane to up the ante to felony. I imagine the drone operators must be proud of themselves and laughing over their beers at the power they have to ground helicopters.

    Technology has created a lot of chaos in the world today, including drones. Of course, there’s always the possibility of just shooting the things down if they get in the way. Sounds good to me.

  • stgeorgeflyman July 9, 2016 at 10:49 am

    I can’t understand why the drone incidents continue, why is it not published that drones violating this space will be destroyed without any exceptions.

  • knobe July 9, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    I’m beginning to wonder if drone guy lives in an isolated family that doesn’t get news from the outside world . . .
    I’ve known several people who don’t believe in having TV or connection to the internet .

    Maybe shoot a net over it , then bring it down to try & trace it back to the owner ?
    Once they show a pic of the captured drone & ask for help identifying the owner they might get some answers .

    !

    • anybody home July 9, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      More likely either somebody with a camera attached to the drone for “great” photos. Or entitled yahoos who just do it for the heck of it. Or, in my own experience, 20-something hipster types in my apartment building (and not a cheap one either) who thought it was funny to send the drone up to my 3rd floor apartment and look in my windows. I can easily see these brats launching a drone around the helicopters.

      I’m pretty sure these drone operators know just what kind of problems they’re causing, and they like it. Power!

  • RealMcCoy July 9, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    SEND IN THE DRONE-HUNTING ATTACK EAGLES!!!
    There’s nothing like watching nature take down your $1000+ toy…

  • hiker75 July 9, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Call Nellis AFB for Special Manuvers. Taking down a drone!

  • old school July 9, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Yup, needs to be a felony with mandatory jail time. THAT would give the “ME” generation a wake-up call. But drone hunting eagles is a good idea too.

    • .... July 10, 2016 at 10:01 am

      I’m surprised you didn’t blame the Mormons or the LDS church for the fire. you blame them for everything else

  • David July 9, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    I don’t know WHY firefighters cannot catch this drone flying clown. The helicopters should be able to radio ground personnel relative to the location of the offending drone, and the ground personnel should be able track the drone right to the front door of the drone pilot. This drone and camera and gimbal probably cost around $2,000, so the drone pilot is certainly going to want the drone to fly right back and land at his feet. This crime should be EASY to solve. This drone flying clown belongs in JAIL !!!

  • An actual Independent July 10, 2016 at 7:45 am

    It would be much, much harder than people might imagine. The drones are very small and very agile. From the air, it’s very difficult to keep track of other aircraft even when you know where they are. They are in 3 dimensional space with rapidly changing background and can move many ways, unlike a car on the road…where it has very limited options so you just look to where it should be. Because tiny drones can change direction and elevation on a dime, even a small helicopter would have an impossible task in following them. Because of the terrain and forest in that area, tracking one from the ground would also be impossible without an incredible stroke of luck, like the operator crashing it in front of you.
    As for the folks who advocate shooting them down on sight; you probably get a fleeting glance of these things at best. Who is going to be standing around with the correct weapon, ready to go, with a clear and safe shot? That would be adding more dangerous and stupid activity to the situation.

  • Stephen July 10, 2016 at 8:20 am

    And the drone sighting was was verified?

    Of the hundreds of sightings on the FAA drone sighting database, pilots for the most part THOUGHT they saw a drone. Only a very small handful of sightings were verified to actually BE a drone.

    IF it was really a drone and not a bird fleeing the fire or debris carried up by the fire-generated updrafts, I do hope the offender is caught. But just because a paranoid helicopter pilot THOUGHT he saw a drone doesn’t mean there was one.

    The drone hysteria is fear mongering and catering to the paranoid. The panic, here, is completely out of any sort of proportion to reality. There is absolutely no factual evidence to support the fear and ignorance around small personal drones.

    There have been more than a million hours of flight of small drones, yet there is not one verifiable report of a drone crash in the US that resulted in a serious injury as defined by the NTSB* to someone not connected to the flight. Not one. It is a safety rate that all other segments of aviation would be jealous to have. There is also not one verifiable report of a collision between a small drone and a manned aircraft. Not one.

    Keep the risk of personal drones in perspective.

    Today (if this is an average day in the USA):
    1560 people will die from Cancer
    268 people in US hospitals will die because of medical mistakes.
    117 Americans will die in an automobile accident.
    98 people in the US will die from the flu.
    53 people will kill themselves with a firearm.
    37 will die from AIDS.
    30 people will die in gun-related murders.
    18 pilots will report a Laser Incident
    3 General Aviation airplanes will crash in the US.

    0 people will be seriously injured or killed by a small drone accident.*

    Zero. Why are so many supposedly rational people so terrified of zero?

    * A band-aid is not a serious injury. CFR 49 §830.2 contains the definition of “Serious Injury” that the FAA and NTSB use in their aircraft and vehicular accident statistics.

    • Knot July 10, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      Stephen, do you own a drone? You react like you’re a drone owner.

    • ladybugavenger July 10, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      This is America, accusations is all you need for the peon public. Welcome to ‘merica.

    • anybody home July 10, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      Sounds like you’re a drone man. All this defense kinda gives you away. They’re dangerous and you know it. Get your drones out of the airspace.

    • Bob July 10, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      can we do a IP backtrace on stephen. i think we’ve got our culprit

      • .... July 11, 2016 at 2:36 pm

        Well that’s just your opinion. And that’s all it is. ! ….Oh btw it’s Stephen not stephen will dumbob ever learn ? so sad

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