A drone was spotted flying close to the Arbutus Ridge fire at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

A drone was spotted flying close to the Arbutus Ridge fire at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Drone threatens aerial firefighting at Alberni wildfire

Fines for illegal use of drones range between $3,000 and $25,000

An illegally-operated drone has threatened aerial firefighting over the Arbutus Ridge fire in the Alberni Inlet.

A drone was spotted at 5:30 a.m. flying over the Alberni Inlet near Harbour Quay, across the water and close to the fire.

“It’s very serious,” Coastal Fire Centre fire information officer Donna MacPherson said. “There is an automatic airspace restriction over any wildfire in Canada.”

READ: Fire breaks out on Arbutus Ridge, above the Alberni Canal

That airspace restriction is 3,000 feet above land and five nautical miles (9.26 kilometres) from the point of origin of the fire. The other side of the Alberni Inlet is only one nautical mile (1.8 kilometres) across from the Arbutus Ridge fire.

“That (restriction) happens automatically, we don’t have to do anything,” MacPherson said.

Drone intrusions are dealt with by the federal government. Operators violating Transport Canada’s rules for operating drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can face fines between $3,000 and $25,000.

“We have an expectation we will be using aircraft on that fire and they’re (drone operators) putting that in jeopardy,” she said. “They’re interfering with our ability to do what we need to do on that fire.

“We can’t put our pilots at risk like this,” MacPherson said.

If anyone witnesses a person operating a drone within a wildfire airspace inclusion zone, they are asked to call the RCMP immediately.

“They’re putting lives at risk,” MacPherson said.

The Arbutus Ridge fire was spotted at midnight Aug. 9 and is now approximately 2.1 hectares. A three-person initial attack crew has been working the fire since early morning, as well as a crew from Port Alberni Fire Department, at the request of B.C. Wildfire Service.

editor@albernivalleynews.com