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Drone operator arrested after flying over California wildfire, police say

By Allen Cone
A man was arrested Friday for allegedly flying a drone over the Trailhead Fire that ignited near Foresthill, Calif., in late June. Photo courtesy of Cal Fire
A man was arrested Friday for allegedly flying a drone over the Trailhead Fire that ignited near Foresthill, Calif., in late June. Photo courtesy of Cal Fire

FORESTHILL, Calif., July 17 (UPI) -- A man suspected of flying a drone over a wildfire late last month in northern California was arrested.

Eric Wamser, 57, is the first arrest by Cal Fire of a drone operator for allegedly interfering with firefighting, the agency said in a release.

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Wamser is accused of flying a hobby drone over the Trailhead Fire -- about 50 miles northeast of Sacramento -- to record images. Cal Fire said when his drone was spotted, air support was grounded for 30 minutes to avoid a crash. It delayed firefighting efforts, authorities said.

"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," Cal Fire Fire Protect Deputy Director Chief Dave Teter said in a release. "For hobby drone operators, it's pretty simple: when you fly, we can't! No hobby drones over fire zones."

Information posted on social media helped led enforcement officers to the arrest. He was booked into Placer County jail in Auburn.

The Trailhead Fire ignited on June 28 and grew to 5,600 acres, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate for several days. The blaze was 98 percent contained as of Friday, the last update.

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Berlant said Wamser is the first drone operator arrested by state fire investigators although there have been dozens of similar drones in fire areas over the past two years.

Officials said another drone in a separate incident also interfered with fire fighting during the Trailhead Fire. They're still looking for that pilot.

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