Drone operator arrested for interfering with firefighting aircraft

Gene Alan Carpenter
Gene Alan Carpenter

A man was arrested in Prescott, Arizona for flying a drone into the airspace near the Goodwin Fire that as of Friday had burned over 25,000 acres southeast of the city.

Gene Alan Carpenter, a 54-year-old from Prescott Valley, is accused of endangering 14 aircraft and ground personnel with a “substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury” by flying a drone near or over the fire. All firefighting aircraft had to be grounded for about an hour on Wednesday, June 28.

In 2016 Arizona passed a law making it illegal to fly a drone that interfered with emergency or law enforcement efforts. It is likely that a Temporary Flight Restriction was in effect over the fire at that time which would make it a violation of federal law for any aircraft to invade the space without permission.

If a drone collided with a firefighting helicopter or fixed wing aircraft it could cause great harm especially if it hit a windshield or engine. And if the aircraft crashes, killing the pilots, firefighters on the ground would also be in danger from the falling debris.

The safety of firefighters is compromised when all of the helicopters, lead planes, air attack, and air tankers are grounded, preventing the aircraft from slowing the fire so that firefighters can move in and construct fireline. When aircraft and ground personnel disengage, homes and private property could be destroyed that might otherwise have been saved with an aggressive firefighting attack. Some air tankers when grounded by an intruding aircraft can’t land with a full load of retardant, so they have to jettison it, wasting thousands of dollars worth of the product.

On June 24 multiple witnesses reported seeing a man operating a drone at the Goodwin Fire standing next to a white van.

Below is an excerpt from an article at 12news:

The sheriff’s office said based on witness information, drone descriptions and photos from Carpenter’s website showing drone views of the Goodwin Fire, deputies began searching for him.

Carpenter was arrested Friday afternoon after an off-duty deputy spotted his van on Willow Creek Road in Prescott. The drone was found in the van and seized.

Detectives are meeting with federal officials Monday to discuss additional charges based on the federal statutes regarding temporary flight restrictions.

Mr. Carter is in custody at Yavapai County facilities at Camp Verde, Arizona charged with 14 counts of endangerment, all felonies, and one misdemeanor.

Drones interfere with aviation operations on Pinal Fire

Above: Undated Inciweb photo of the Pinal Fire.

Four separate incidents involving hobbyists flying drones are hindering operations on the 4,991-acre Pinal Fire since the fire was detected May 8 in the Tonto National Forest five miles south of Globe, Arizona.

The latest drone sighting occurred May 24, 2017. An air tanker flying over the fire was forced to release its retardant at a higher altitude for safety reasons. The higher drop reduced the retardant’s effectiveness on the fire. Subsequently, aviation operations were suspended until the drone issue was resolved.

On May 20, 2017, a law enforcement officer cited a hobbyist for flying a drone near the Pinal Fire.

Pinal Fire map
Map showing heat detected by a satellite over the Pinal Fire. The red dots are the most recent, from 3:15 a.m. MDT May 26, 2017.

Forest Service officials continue to emphasize that flying drones over or in close proximity to wildfires is illegal, endangers aviators as well as crews on the ground, and slows operations which potentially could result in the fire increasing in size.

Deputy Forest Supervisor Tom Torres, Tonto National Forest, explained that flying a drone near a wildfire is, in fact, breaking the law.

“The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations 43 CFR 9212.1(f) – indicates that it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire,” Torres said. “Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance.

Drone operators determined to have endangered manned aircraft or people on the ground and/or interfered with wildfire suppression may be subject to civil penalties, including fines of up to $25,000, and potentially criminal prosecution.

Management of the fire

The Pinal Fire is being managed, not aggressively suppressed. One of the objectives is to create a continuous fuel break between the Pinal Mountains and the town of Globe five miles to the north.

Firefighters are involved in preparation and defense of structures and infrastructure along the indirect control lines from which firing operations could be conducted where necessary to maintain low intensity fire conditions and prevent unwanted impacts to the values at risk.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

FAA sends email to drone users about flying near wildfires

Several times in the last 10 days drones flying near wildfires have required that firefighting aircraft cease operations, sometimes for hours at a time.

Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration sent a mass email to individuals who have registered their drones with the agency, warning them that “drone operators who interfere with wildfire suppression efforts are subject to civil penalties of up to $27,500 and possible criminal prosecution”.

FAA email drone warning
FAA emailed drone warning, June 29, 2016.

Time lapse of prescribed fire at Homestead NM

This is a time lapse of the 23-acre prescribed fire that was partially ignited by an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, April 22 at Homestead National Monument in southeast Nebraska. During the test, firefighters with drip torches lit the perimeter, while the drone ignited the interior.

More information about the use of the drone on the project.

Video report: Drone used to ignite prescribed fire

Earlier today we reported on the unmanned aircraft system, or drone, that helped to ignite a prescribed fire in Homestead National Memorial in southeast Nebraska. This video includes images from the burn plus interviews with five key members of the team that made it happen.