- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2016

California authorities have made their first arrest linked to a drone operator who allegedly interfered with firefighters’ efforts to battle wildfires.

Eric Wamser, 57, was detained in Foresthill last Friday by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection last Friday after wildfire footage was uploaded to social media. The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that Mr. Wamser’s arrest was the first of its kind in the Golden State.

“When a hobby drone flies in the path of our aircraft, we have no choice but to pull back our airtankers and helicopters until the drone is removed,” Chief Dave Teter, deputy director of the department’s fire protection programs, said in a statement, the Journal reported Sunday. “For hobby drone operators, it’s pretty simple: When you fly, we can’t! No hobby drones over fire zones.”

Footage captured by the drone showed a fire that began June 28 near Todd Valley, which covered nearly 5,600 acres. Mr. Wamser faces Federal Aviation Administration fines of up to $27,500 if he is found guilty, a local NBC affiliate reported Saturday.

“To us, this is no different than parking in front of a fire station,” said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for Cal Fire, the station reported. “Common sense tells us that is bad, and we hope that other hobby drone operators see that flying that drone in the path of the aircraft is not acceptable.”

Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit Chief George Morris III said aircraft were critical to getting the fire under control.

“Every minute we couldn’t fly our aircraft because of this drone, the fire was able to grow and do more damage,” Mr. Morris said.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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