A drone grounded seven firefighting helicopters in southern Tasmania on Christmas Day. According to Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) rules, the drone pilot could face up to five years imprisonment or have to pay a fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
Fire crews had worked through Christmas Eve night to fight the blaze, which forced the evacuation of about 100 people on southern Bruny Island, south of Hobart. The firefighting helicopters were deployed on Christmas Day to try to control the bushfire. On Wednesday authorities confirmed the fire was contained and the island was safe to visit.
Before crews were able to get the fire under control, a drone hampered the efforts when it was seen flying near the fires. Tasmania police said the aircrafts had to be grounded because firefighting efforts at Conleys Point, south Bruny, were being hampered by a drone flown in the area, putting community safety at risk.
Under the CASA rules, drones cannot be flown over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are taking place without prior approval. Authorities reported that the 37-year old drone pilot responsible for the incident is fully cooperating with police.
Drones disrupting wildfire operations is a problem many communities have faced. In the U.S., authorities have reminded the public to keep drones away from wildfires and natural disasters such as hurricanes. If unauthorized drones are spotted near rescue aircrafts, the aircrafts have to be grounded until the drone is gone. In life threatening situations and rescue efforts unauthorized drone cause potentially deadly consequences.