Drone-Sparked Fire Prompts Important Safety Questions



Connecting state and local government leaders

A recent incident in Oregon offers "a cautionary tale about dog ownership and fire danger this time of year."

It could have been much worse. A man flying his recreational drone aircraft near Springfield, Oregon lost control of the aerial device after a passerby’s dog jumped on top of him and knocked the transmitter out of his hands.

After some rapid aerial maneuvers, a video posted to Facebook shows the drone crash into the ground and sparking a small fire in a field. The resulting blaze was quickly brought under control by local firefighters. The drone pilot, Cameron Austin-Connolly, called it "a cautionary tale about dog ownership and fire danger this time of year."

The drone-sparked fire in Oregon not the first-such incident caused by an unmanned aerial vehicle crashing into the ground. In March, firefighters responded to a blaze caused by a battery-powered drone crash near Flagstaff, Arizona. That fire in the Coconino National Forest grew to 335 acres.

As the fire risk remains extremely high in many parts of the U.S, especially in western states, Wildfire Today asks these important questions about drone regulation.

So until that next major step in battery technology occurs, what do we do about drones? Is the risk so low that we should not be concerned? When land managers enact fire restrictions during periods of high wildfire danger, do we also prohibit the use of drones? Should drones ever be allowed over vegetation in a fire-prone environment during wildfire season? And what about the hundreds of drones owned and operated by the Department of the Interior that flew 5,000 missions last year? Not all are battery operated, but some are.

With the recent Arizona and Oregon incidents, add drones to the list of ways you can unintentionally cause a wildfire. All it takes is a simple spark.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle. 

NEXT STORY: Driving Without a Smartphone