San Bernardino Forest Aviation officer, Mike Eaton told SUN News they were delayed from leaving, referring to an MD-87 jet tanker, a water-dropping Skycrane helicopter and a Hemet-based Cal Fire S-2 Tracker tanker. All three took off 10 minutes later than planned – critical time wasted in any fire-fighting effort.
Someone on the ground spotted the unmanned aircraft flying over the fire shortly after the 2:46 p.m. start of the Mill 2 fire in Mill Creek Canyon near State Highway 38 and Bryant Street, raising the possibility of a midair collision between the drone and any firefighting aircraft that entered that airspace.
The incident marked the third time in recent weeks that apparently privately-owned drones have delayed firefighting aircraft.
On a crucial day last month in the fight against the 49-square-mile Lake fire in the San Bernardino Mountains and San Gorgonio Wilderness, air tankers were grounded after a drone passed 500 feet below one firefighting airplane and 500 feet above another. The next day, planes fighting a smaller fire on the outskirts of San Bernardino were grounded because of a drone.
No homes were damaged by the Mill 2 blaze, but four were evacuated because of the danger.
Eaton is urging the public not to operate drones anywhere near a fire, adding that drones pose a risk to pilots’ lives. He says the FAA is working to figure out how to educate the public, but he is hoping their slogan “IF YOU FLY, WE CAN’T” will go a long way to achieving this goal.