First California Man Arrested For Drone Use, Faces Up To $27,500 In Fines

A man was arrested earlier in July for flying his drone over a wildfire burning near Sacramento, California. This is the first such arrest in the state.

Eric Wamser, a 57-year-old drone enthusiast, was operating the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) near the forest fire when authorities spotted the drone. The firefighters chose to ground their extinguishing aircraft for 30 minutes in order to avoid any collisions or operational complications.

“Once sunset occurs, we are not able to use our aircraft,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the Los Angeles Times. “We needed to make as many drops as we could before sunlight went away. And at that point we had not been able to make access to the fire line on the ground, so the aircraft were critical.”

The fire engulfed a large swath of land and 5,646 acres were ultimately burned.

The charges were not issued by the Federal Aviation Administration; Wamser was charged by Placer County with “interfering with firefighting efforts,” a misdemeanor. Berlant told the Los Angeles Times that Wamser also could face federal prosecution for violating restricted airspace. This could lead to a $27,500 penalty, according to Popular Mechanics.

Authorities said that Wamser posted images he captured of the blazing fire on social media, which was a primary reason they were able to apprehend him.

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