Drone flying in airspace hindered firefighting efforts at Warm Springs fire

The Warm Springs fire that claimed 866 acres of ground between Guernsey and Dwyer had multiple firefighting units battling the blaze Sept. 8 along with air assets that had efforts hampered by drone activity in the area.

GUERNSEY – The fire that broke out on the south side of Highway 26 between Dwyer and Guernsey has been labeled the “Warm Springs Fire” and 866 acres were burned Sept. 8. According to Guernsey City Fire Chief Jeff Thomas, other fire departments responded including Guernsey City fire department, Camp Guernsey, Glendo, Antelope Gap, Hartville, Ft. Laramie, Palmer Canyon, Wheatland, Laramie Peak, Torrington, Yoder, Veteran, Goshen Hole along with a hand crew and air assets.

Law enforcement on the scene included the Platte County Sheriff’s Office, Guernsey Police Department and the the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

As the winds continued to come into play with up to 60 mph gusts, the firefighters were working as if they were chasing a runaway train. According to Warner, it took 72 hours to put the fire out and on Sunday as warm weather began to once again move in, Warner has still bee monitoring the site and watching for flareups.

According to Platte County Fire Warden Aaron Clark, the fire being fought from the air had efforts hampered by drone activity.

“During the recent Warm Springs Fire west of Guernsey, we had to temporarily suspend slurry drops because someone was flying a drone in the fire air space,” Clark said. “Slurry was being used to protect homes adjacent to homes on Warm Springs Trace road. The presence of the drone temporarily delayed our ability to slow the rate of fire encroachment on those homes. FAA regulations clearly prohibit drones from flying over an emergency or rescue operation including wildfires. A drone flying near a wildfire results in an immediate shut down of air operations (both helicopters and slurry). Air operations will remain shut down until the drone leaves the airspace. In the future, if a drone appears near a wildfire in Platte County, the fire Incident Commander will instruct law enforcement to shoot it down immediately.”

Camp Guernsey was also involved in the firefighting efforts and issued a statement from Airfield Division Chief, Jason Miller.

Regarding the report of the unauthorized use of a UAS (Drone) operating in the vicinity of the Warms Springs Fire, Miller issued a statement to the Guernsey Gazette.

“Air Attack conducting aerial reconnaissance and directing inbound Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) had reported to the Incident Commander (IC) that he may have spotted a Small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) commonly referred to as a "drone" over the Warm Springs Fire at approximately 3:26pm on Sept. 8 2022,” Miller said. “Air Attack asked the IC to confirm that ground assets were not using a drone and stated that he may have to waive off the SEATs to ensure there was not a potential for a mid-air collision. The IC confirmed that he had not ordered the use of a drone. Local Law enforcement conducting traffic control along highway 26 was requested to look through the growing number of spectators for anyone who appeared to be manipulating the hand controls of a drone. 

“The rule for operating of sUAS or "drones" under 55lbs in the National Airspace System (NAS) is 14 CFR Part 107, referred to as the Small UAS Rule. This ruling prohibits the recreational or commercial use of drones in "Controlled Airspace" without an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) which is coordinated through the local Air Traffic Controlling Agency. The military is only authorized by the Department of Defense to operate military UAS within FAA established Restricted Special Use Airspace and/or with an designated military operations area with an FAA approved COA. The unauthorized use of drones over military installations from the surface to 400ft is further prohibited in accordance with Special Security Instructions 14 Part 99.7. Camp Guernsey Army Airfield is the Air Traffic Control Agency for the controlled airspace from the surface up to 2,500ft above-ground-level and within 5nm of Camp Guernsey.  Individuals violating any of these rules, and/or operating in a dangerous manner, may be subject to FAA enforcement action. Camp Guernsey is unaware of any written local law enforcement UAS policies or procedures.”

FAADroneZone is the FAA's official website for managing the operation of drones for recreation, education, government or business. FAADroneZone is a helpful link for Drone Owners who need to register their drone, request waivers, and Airspace Authorizations. The link also provides useful resources to better understand the rules, become an FAA certified remote pilot, and learn the specific areas they can (and cannot) operate drones. FAADroneZone Access - Home

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