CAL FIRE arrests hobby drone operator for interfering with Foresthill firefight
CAL FIRE law enforcement officers arrested a Placer County man Friday who allegedly interfered with firefighting operations recently on the Trailhead Fire by flying a drone over the fire, forcing CAL FIRE to ground aircraft rather than risk a collision.
First Drone Operator to be arrested in CA for flying drone during fire
Eric Wamser faces one misdemeanor charge of interfering with firefighting efforts
Eric Wamser, 57, of Foresthill was arrested Friday for allegedly flying his unmanned hobby aircraft over the Trailhead Fire. The incident reportedly forced firefighters to ground aircraft rather than risk a collision, according to a statement from Cal Fire spokesperson Daniel Berlant.
Just above the tree line outside his Foresthill home was where 57-year-old Eric Wamser said he decided to fly his hobby drone the night the fire erupted.
A decision he said he deeply regrets.
“We immediately pulled back the aircraft for probably a good 30 minutes until that drone was out of the area,” Berlant said.
KCRA 3 stopped by Wamser’s home, but he didn't want to appear on camera. He did want to go on the record to say that he’s embarrassed about the mistake he made that night.
Wamser claims he wanted to see how close the flames were, so he sent the drone up directly over his home for about two minutes.
“Don’t use a hobby drone just to get a better vantage point. If you feel unsafe you should leave the area,” Berlant said.
”The message is simple: 'If you fly, we can't.'"Drones have become a growing hazard and operators are usually hard to catch, Cal Fire said.
In fact, Wamser is the first person to be arrested in California.
“In this case, the video was posted on social media and that aided our efforts,” Berlant said.
Posting the video to his Facebook page is also something Wamser said he wishes he could take back.
The video has since been taken down and will be used as evidence by the Placer County District Attorney's Office.
Wamser faces one misdemeanor charge of interfering with firefighting efforts and he said he's learned his lesson.
“We hope this is a lesson for all hobby drone operators," Berlant said. "Whether it's intentional or a mistake, don't do it. Don't fly a drone even if you're a mile away you can be in the approach for an aircraft to access the fire.”
Cal Fire is still investigating two other drone incidents that impeded efforts on the Trailhead Fire on the El Dorado County side. They have not yet tracked down those operators.
CAL FIRE Hobby drone webpage: http://www.fire.ca.gov/communications/communications_ifyouflywecant
CAL FIRE Drone Safety Graphic: http://calfire.ca.gov/communications/images/IfYouFlyPoster.jpg
Video PSA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=069w2Cf5eUQ