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Amateur Consumer Drone Operator Causes Forest Fire In Arizona

A 16-inch-by-16-inch, battery-operated hobby drone has caused a fire in Arizona’s Coconino National Forest after it crashed and caught fire. several miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona. Law enforcement hasn’t released details about the make of the drone or precisely how the fire started, though it has identified the pilot who flew it.

If found guilty, the drone’s owner could face a fine, community service or a jail sentence as he’ll be held directly responsible for igniting a grassland area called Kendrick Park destroying more than 300 acres. The fire was contained by 30 firefighters within the day.

Coconino National Forest spokesperson George Jozens told Ars on Friday that it was unclear what kind of drone caused the crash, but the pilot had been identified and was charged with starting a wildfire by Forest Services Region 3 Law Enforcement. Ars contacted that department for comment, but we have not yet received a response. Penalties for starting a wildfire can range from fines to community service to jail time.

Warnings were issued to drivers in the area as dense smoke from the fire made driving conditions difficult on roads through the Kendrick Park region.

Drone use and wilderness areas have been in conflict in recent years. Drones have grounded fire-fighting planes and helicopters, which usually fly low to the forest. Having a drone come in contact with propellers could endanger a firefighter’s life. Lawmakers have pushed to criminalize flying drones in wildfire areas because grounded aircraft can cost cash-strapped fire-fighting departments thousands of dollars as fires burn out of control. At the same time, law enforcement has happily embraced drones for a variety of purposes.

A similar incident happened last summer, when the US Air Force accidentally crashed an unmanned aircraft with a 130-foot wingspan—an RQ-4 Global Hawk—in the Inyo County National Forest just outside of Lone Pine, California. That crash started a small wildfire.

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