California firefighters encounter civilian drone for first time


California fire officials said they encountered a civilian-piloted drone over the weekend for the first time while fighting a large wildfire, and that it was banished from the sky to keep it from disrupting flight operations.

Sheriff’s officials asked the owner of the unmanned craft — spotted Sunday in the area east of Highway 49, five miles north of Plymouth — to cease flying it to keep it from entering the flight path of low-flying aircraft making drops on the 3,800-acre fire, said Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

The owner was apparently operating the craft, described as a “quadcopter,” so he could “check out the fire” for his “own personal entertainment,” she said.


It was the first time CalFire had encountered such a device during their firefighting efforts, Tolmachoff said. But she expects it won’t be the last.

“I anticipate it possibly being a problem in the future,” she said.

Firefighters continued to gain the upper hand on the Sand fire Monday, increasing containment to 65%. It was sparked about 4:34 p.m. Friday by a vehicle driving in dry brush.

The blaze has destroyed 13 homes and continued to threaten 515 structures, according to CalFire.

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