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B.C. mayor says drones endangering wildfire helicopter pilots, pleads for patience

A helicopter lands with crews returning from fighting wildfires near Fort McMurray, Alta., Thursday, May 16, 2024. The mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality in B.C. says drones are endangering helicopters being used to fight wildfires near Fort Nelson, which was ordered evacuated earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh A helicopter lands with crews returning from fighting wildfires near Fort McMurray, Alta., Thursday, May 16, 2024. The mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality in B.C. says drones are endangering helicopters being used to fight wildfires near Fort Nelson, which was ordered evacuated earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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The mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality in British Columbia says drones are endangering helicopters being used to fight wildfires near Fort Nelson, which was ordered evacuated earlier this month.

In a video posted on Facebook, Rob Fraser says drones can be an excellent tool, but under the circumstances where 20 helicopters are flying around, he says drones are "nothing but hazards."

Fraser says helicopter pilots fighting wildfires are under an immense amount of stress, and says they cannot be looking out for drones, warning "they will cause these guys to crash."

Fraser says he would take out a drone with a 12-gauge shotgun if he could, but he's not allowed, so he says people caught using drones in the wildfire evacuation areas will be prosecuted "to the biggest limit" possible.

He says people in the evacuation zone have also caused damage to structural protection hoses by driving over them, and have been speeding through areas and catching fire crews off guard.

Fraser says they've begun preliminary work on getting Fort Nelson back up and running by focusing on "essential businesses," pleading with evacuees to be patient as the fire fight continues.

At the nearby Doig River First Nation, an evacuation order has now been downgraded to an alert, and people are urged to stay prepared if another evacuation order is issued.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said Monday that favourable weather in the next few day in the province's northeast will help crews make progress, but the drought situation means conditions are still unseasonably dry. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2024.

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