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