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There is no real excuse to drone on

Firefighters up and down the country work tirelessly to keep communities safe, and while fighting fires is all in the name, they’re often first responders to all sorts of incidents.

Fires are destructive yet fickle beasts that can very quickly devour anything in their path. Firefighters don’t need the public interfering.

In the past few weeks, there have been several large-scale fires in the South Island, most notably in Canterbury – ignited by sparks from a passing train – but also in the Tasman’s Lee Valley.

The Lee Valley vegetation fire is under investigation; the blaze ripped through at least nine hectares of pine forestry and 11 homes had to be evacuated.

Helicopters took to the skies while crews on the ground battled the fire that began on February 7 and was deemed “contained and controlled” on February 11.

But while firefighters were risking life and limb to save the pine forest and nearby properties, they were rudely interrupted by an unauthorised drone.

Sure, it could be exciting to get snaps of fires, but not when it hinders the efforts of those trying to put it out.

All six helicopters tackling the fast-moving vegetation fire were grounded because of the danger posed by the drone in the area while the fire – which at that point was not contained or controlled – continued on its destructive path. At that time, the fire had already torn through five hectares.

A seventh helicopter en route was also stood down.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand [Fenz] issued a statement that ground-based firefighters could not continue fighting either as the terrain was too steep and dangerous.

Drones aren’t allowed near airports due to the risk they pose to aircraft, something which is included in many drone manuals, and anybody with common sense would realise that a drone and aircraft would make a dangerous combination.

US Airways Flight 1549 – the plane that famously landed in the Hudson River – lost thrust when the plane hit a flock of geese, which badly damaged both engines.

If a five-kilo Canada goose hitting the engine of an Airbus A320 could bring it down, imagine the damage a drone could do to a helicopter rotor.

Fenz Incident Controller Steve Trigg said drones were a safety risk to aerial firefighting.

“A mid-air collision with a drone could have fatal consequences,” he said.

Police are still actively seeking the drone operator.

It’s unclear if the helicopters could get airborne again that day, but a release from Fenz late on February 7 said that seven helicopters would resume the aerial work the following morning.

We’re all guilty of having a nosey when we drive past the lights of emergency responders, but to fly a drone into airspace where helicopters are actively fighting a fire raises the question: What happened to common sense?

Eleven families were waiting to hear about the state of their homes while firefighters were forced to pause their attempts to save those homes.

Thus, don’t get in the way when you’re having a gawk.


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