Helicopter fighting Barth fire has near miss with drone
By Kyle Mooty
As if fighting massive wildfires are not enough, the Texas A&M Forest Service averted a near disaster recently when one of its helicopters delivering water to the Barth Fire near the SH 130 and SH 183 intersection just missed colliding with a drone — a “tethered” drone reported to be flown by Travis County ESD.
According to Texas A&M Forest Service, the drone came within “feet of the helicopter.”
“Pilots have no way to detect a drone or know there is one present in the airspace until they see it,” said Jared Karns with the Texas A&M Forest Service. “Suppression aircraft can respond to wildfires quickly, increasing the likelihood that a new ignition remains a small, manageable wildfire. Utilizing aircraft greatly enhances the state’s firefighting efforts, but they have to be able to fly in a safe environment.”
According to the Texas Press Association, under Federal Aviation Administration rules, all aircraft, including drones, are prohibited from flying over wildfire areas. More than 1,350 wildfires have occurred in the state in July and August to date.
The Barth Fire was started accidentally by City of Lockhart water utility crews making emergency repairs.
The Barth Fire burned 150 acres, while a week earlier the Boggy Creek Fire off SH 130 was started by a tractor-trailer that caught on fire and burned 228.8 acres. Texas A&M Forest Service provided aircraft for both fires,
Caldwell County Sheriff Mike Lane warned that people need to be very cautious around such wildfires.
“As far as people watching the wildfires, just be mindful of the firefighters doing their jobs,” Lane said. “We are sending deputies to all of them we can to assist in traffic control, but really it’s about being a strong community and allowing the firefighters to do their jobs without hindering them going to and from the fire scene.”
Drones are allowed in Texas for recreational and commercial use, subject to FAA regulations and flight controls put in place by local governments.