Now, here’s a good reminder of why following the rules should be paramount for any drone pilot. A drone recently crashed and sparked a wildfire in Colorado’s Boulder County – even forcing more than 300 people to evacuate their homes. But no charges are being pressed against the drone crew since they were flying “within regulations.”
The incident took place on April 20 at a time when Boulder County was experiencing unusual “critical to extreme” fire weather conditions. Since this was not normal for the region, three researchers associated with the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Aerospace Engineering Department decided to gather severe weather data using a fixed-wing drone at Table Mountain Radio Quiet Zone.
Unfortunately, their drone crashed at a high speed into the ground causing a lithium-ion battery cell to dislodge and ignite. The crew used an on-site fire extinguisher but were unable to get the grass fire stopped before it began to spread quickly due to high winds.
Fire crews rushed to put out the blaze while a mandatory evacuation order was issued for the nearby areas, affecting more than 300 people. Seth McKinney, Fire Management Officer for the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters:
The season is starting off a little early for us, a little sooner than expected, I think. We’re really starting to see what a true, year-round fire season looks like in Colorado.
But, thankfully, significant progress on the fire could be made in a short time and the mandatory evacuation order was lifted within a couple of hours.
Though the fire managed to burn 52 acres of land before it could be extinguished, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement explaining that the drone operators had remained on-scene and fully cooperated with investigators. The statement read:
They were flying within regulations and within the flying capability of the craft. No criminal charges will be filed due to the accidental nature of the incident.