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Firefighting aircraft grounded due to drone

Thirteen aircraft were grounded Sunday due to an unauthorized drone in the area. RCMP are investigating.

Eight helicopters and five fixed-wing aircraft that were fighting both the Testalinden Creek and Wilson’s Mountain Road wildfires were grounded due to an unauthorized drone in the area on Sunday, Aug. 16.

The aircraft supporting firefighters on the ground were grounded and the BC Wildfire Service said it “significantly impacted fire suppression operations” in a release.

“This is something that is really, really frustrating,” said Steve Thomson, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister. “We happened to be at the airport in Oliver when the helicopters, the people that are providing all the support for the firefighting in terms of bucketing, all had to return to the airport.”

“You could really see the visible frustration of the pilots and our Wildfire team when that happened. Ticked off would probably be too mild a term to talk about their reaction. It is really something that is not acceptable as we have these assets in the air supporting and protecting our communities.”

The Oliver RCMP is working with the BC Wildfire Service in relation to the incident. The operation of any aircraft not associated with firefighting crews is illegal as all wildfires are considered to be flight restricted due to the Canadian Air Regulations. The restricted airspace is 3,000 feet above ground level and a radius of five nautical miles around the fire.

Transport Canada and the BC Wildfire Service prohibit the use of drones of any size near a wildfire, saying that the activity is dangerous and poses a significant safety risk to personnel, especially low-flying firefighting aircraft.