A drone user risked steep fines for capturing billowing smoke and responders in action during a fire at the rocky waterfront of the Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites on Wednesday.
“Drones really should not be flying when there are wildfires,” said Colwood Assistant Fire Chief Greg Chow, adding operators could also be contravening provincial wildfire and Parks Canada regulations.
Operators can face a maximum fine of $25,000 and 18 months in jail if they operate a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle around any size of wildfire, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. Wildfire sites automatically become flight-restricted areas and the prohibited zones are defined by a 9.3-kilometre radius around the fire and 3,000 feet above ground level.
Parks Canada also limits drone use at its sites, including Fort Rodd Hill, as they may pose risks or disturbances to wildlife and visitors. Those who fly the machines without site approval can face law enforcement action and a fine of up to $3,000.
Colwood fire crews got a call about the brush fire around 4:15 p.m. on Aug. 24 and had water on the flames within about 15 minutes, Chow said. When crews arrived, the fire was spreading into the Fort Rodd Hill property, toward the Upper Battery, from the Esquimalt Lagoon beach area.
Firefighters had to deal with the area’s heavy terrain and rocky outcrops to bring in their equipment. The fire was under control about an hour after crews arrived. Parks Canada said no structures were damaged and nobody was injured in the fire.
Chow said a B.C. Wildfire Service helicopter measured the blaze from above but added those crews can’t fly around a wildfire if a drone is in the area.
“It will delay the personnel to respond to that area and to assess and eventually extinguish the fire,” he said. “I know drones are nice to see, however they can hamper our operations.”
The wildfire service’s interactive map says the incident affected 0.36 hectares at the site and is suspected to be caused by a person, though Chow said the cause is yet to be determined.
The Colwood and View Royal fire departments and the B.C. Forestry Service had a total of 23 members on scene to put out the blaze. Crews also returned to the site overnight and the next day to monitor the area.
Fort Rodd Hill is a coast artillery fort built in the late 1890s to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt naval base. The fort includes three gun batteries, underground magazines, command posts, guardhouses, barracks and searchlight emplacements.
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