BEND — It cost a Bend teenager about $800 in revenue from chores, yard work and birthday gifts to buy a miniature aircraft and a camera he sent aloft to capture video of a forest fire this summer that was threatening the western edge of the city.
The images were a YouTube hit, but they were also a source of worry for fire bosses concerned about the possibility that drones could interfere with firefighting and possibly bring down a big aircraft.
Morgan Tien, 14, told The Bulletin newspaper of Bend that he had read federal guidelines on when and where he could fly his DJI Phantom, a small quadcopter he fitted with a GoPro camera.
Tien’s not in trouble for the flight, which went up from his patio on June 7, followed by a second flight the next day. They didn’t get into restricted air space.
But federal authorities cited the flights, along with others this summer in Washington state and California. They called them an “emerging hazard.”
Drones may be a problem for firefighters if the drones fly into restricted airspace over and near a wildfire, where air tankers and helicopters could be in the air, said Mike Ferris, a spokesman in Portland for the U.S. Forest Service.
If firefighters spot a drone close to a fire, they may suspend the aerial delivery of retardant and water from air tankers and helicopters, Ferris said.
The number of drones flying around wildfires is expected to increase, he said. “We just want people to be aware and know the rules and know that it could become a hazard,” Ferris said.
There have been no collisions reported between airplanes or helicopters and drones in central Oregon or the rest of the country, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Forest Service itself is interested in using drones to collect information about wildfires, such as determining their perimeters and checking for small fires.
Tien said no federal agencies have contacted him about his flights near the Two Bulls Fire. He said he’d fly again near another wildfire, after making sure he was following rules, and he expects to see more people flying drones near wildfires.
“We are just entering this realm of drones,” Tien said.