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The Sanpete Messenger

Local drone pilot may have answers to fire

Local drone pilot may have answers to fire

 

Robert Stevens

Managing editor

7/12/18

Fire crews, which were waiting on standby during the Hub City Days fireworks display, rush to put out a fire caused by an errant firework.

MT. PLEASANT—Authorities are investigating the cause of a fire that happened during the Hub City Days fireworks display, and the answer may lie in the hands of a local drone pilot.

The fire erupted in a nearby field, with flames sprouting into the sky as high as 20 feet, said Rhonda Stewart of Mt. Pleasant, who was watching the Hub City Days fireworks display from nearby.

According to Mt. Pleasant City Fire Chief Sam Draper, a number of people reported seeing the tell-tale blinking green and red lights of an unmanned aircraft—aka drone—in the sky near the fireworks as they watched from the rodeo grandstands and surrounding areas.  On the Mt. Pleasant City Facebook page, one commenter said they had seen as many as three drones flying that night.

Draper said it is theoretically possible that fireworks may have hit a drone, causing it to nosedive and ignite the dry brush beneath it, but that is not an official theory.

Draper said he is hoping to speak to whoever was flying the drone, believing they may have taken video footage of what transpired that night.

“They’re not in any trouble right now,” Draper said. “We just want to talk to them and see if they had any footage from that night.”

Stewart said the fireworks appeared to be much lower than the drone when it veered off course and into the field.

“We were looking up and admiring how far up the drone was when fireworks shot to the side and caught the field on fire,” she said.  “My big childhood fear of fireworks going sideways came true. I know I will never be that close again. It scared the life out of me.”

Since fire crews from several cities were nearby for the main fireworks display, the dramatic looking brushfire was quickly extinguished, Draper said. Looking at it after the fact, very little damage of consequence was done, if any.

Draper said the Utah State Fire Marshall is involved in the investigation.

As for the drones, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations, it is technically against the law to fly a drone at night without special permission and equipment, but people do it every Independence Day.

Youtube is filled with videos of drones flying right into the middle of fireworks—and some getting blasted right out of the sky—so until the investigation is complete, nothing is being ruled out.

Mt. Pleasant City asks that if you, or anyone you know, was flying a drone in Mt. Pleasant on the night of July 4 contact city hall at 435-462-2456.