A consumer drone crashed and burned, and then caused a wildfire

drone crash causes wildfire in arizona
Some of the damage caused by the wildfire. Coconino National Forest

Consumer drones have been causing problems for air-based firefighters tackling wildfires over the last few years, with a number of rogue operators determined to use their camera-equipped flying machines to capture dramatic footage of burning land.

Earlier this month, however, there was an unusual incident in Arizona where a drone actually caused a wildfire. Local media reports suggest the blaze started accidentally when the drone crashed on a dry patch of land.

The March 6 fire began close to Kendrick Park, about 15 miles north of Flagstaff, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It burned more than 200 acres of forest land but fortunately was contained within a day through the efforts of around 30 firefighters. No injuries or significant property damage was reported.

Law enforcement hasn’t released details about the make of the drone or precisely how the fire started, though it has identified the pilot who flew it, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.

Punishment for causing a wildfire varies, but the apparently accidental nature of this particular incident should give the pilot hope that any penalty won’t be too severe.

The incident appears to be the first reported case of a consumer drone causing a wildfire. And as we mentioned at the top, when it comes to such blazes, the machines are more often in the news for hampering firefighting efforts rather than actually causing a wildfire itself.

The drones pose a risk to manned aircraft tackling the blaze, and in some cases have caused air-based firefighting efforts to be suspended until the drone flies away from the scene or the pilot is caught.

During devastating fires in northern California last October, for example, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant told CNBC that “over the years … this problem [has] become a trend.”

The Federal Aviation Administration warns drone pilots they could face “significant” fines if they disrupt emergency response efforts with their machines.

Officials in Canada, meanwhile, have embraced the technology for wildfire investigations, with the government of Alberta working with drone company Elevated Robotic Services in 2016 to fly the machines over a burned area in the province to assess the damage and determine how the fire started.

Elevated’s quadcopters use regular HD cameras together with infrared and ultraviolet devices to gather images that are later stitched together as part of a so-called “fire mapping” process. The imagery is analyzed and can place the location of a fire’s origin to within 9-meters, a far more focused area than can be achieved using helicopters, which have to fly at a higher altitude for safety as well as to prevent the blades from fanning any remaining flames and causing additional disturbance to the scene.


Skydio’s self-flying drone now has an Apple Watch app for flight prep

Skydio's clever R1 autonomous drone now has its own Apple Watch app, making flight preparations simpler than ever. The $2,000 flying machine is now also selling at its first retail outlet — Apple Stores in North America.

These guns will literally blow away the competition in Black Ops 4's Blackout

Finding a good weapon in Black Ops 4's Blackout mode is hard, especially when there are so many options. Whether you like to get up close or keep some distance between you and your enemies, here are the best guns in Blackout.
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

This intelligent parachute system can bail out clumsy drone pilots

Parachutes can save drones when they unexpectedly fall from the sky. Among a number of such systems, Austrian firm Drone Rescue is this week showing off its latest design that automatically deploys when it senses trouble.
Emerging Tech

MIT is building a new $1 billion college dedicated to all things A.I.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a new $1 billion college of computing designed to offer the best possible education to future machine learning A.I. experts.
Emerging Tech

This gadget lets you sleep on airplanes without snuggling a stranger

Odd gadget, or a hug for your face? The Napup Fly+ is a travel pillow, sleep mask, and personal speaker system all rolled into one, attached to the back of the headrest to hold your head up.
Emerging Tech

Light-swallowing room promises Call of Duty fans the blackest of ops

What's it like to be in a room fully painted with the world's darkest material, Vantablack? The makers of one of the year's top video games teamed up with Vantablack scientists to find out.
Emerging Tech

Healthy mice born from two genetic mothers using stem cells, gene editing

Healthy mice have been born from two genetics mothers and later went on to bear healthy offspring of their own, according to a recent paper published by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Emerging Tech

Japanese scientists are chewing over an ‘electric gum’ that never loses flavor

Researchers at Japan's Meiji University may have found the secret to unlimited chewing gum -- and it just involves zapping your tongue with electricity. Here's what makes it all work.
Smart Home

Vector, the engaging Alexa-like robot, is ready to roam around your home

Anyone who has ever watched Short Circuit or WALL-E has surely dreamed about having a robot buddy come live with them. Finally, that dream is now a reality. It's name is Vector, and it's available now.
Emerging Tech

Ekster 3.0 lets you ask, ‘Alexa, where did I leave my wallet?’

Ekster's newest smart wallet is its best yet. It's slimmer than ever, boasts a neat card-dispensing mechanism, and will even let you know where it is, thanks to smart speaker integration.
Emerging Tech

Johns Hopkins’ lab-grown human retina could lead to big insights

Scientists from Johns Hopkins University have successfully grown human retina tissue from scratch in a lab. The work could help with the development of new therapeutics related to eye diseases.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

Scientists created a condom that self-lubricates during sex. You’re welcome

Researchers from Boston University have invented a special coating for condoms which make them respond to bodily fluids by becoming more slippery. Here's how their new breakthrough works.