Battle Against the Blaze: Port Hills Firefighters Face Added Drone Hazard

A Weekend of Challenges Include Drone

As the Port Hills region in , grapples with a fierce bushfire that erupted on Wednesday, and emergency services have been tirelessly working to contain the blaze. The incident, which has already consumed over 650 hectares, destroyed a home, and prompted mass evacuations, saw a new challenge on Sunday: the presence of a private drone that forced the grounding of vital helicopter operations, reports RNZ.

Drones Disrupt Firefighting Efforts

On Sunday, efforts to battle the Port Hills blaze were hampered when helicopters, essential in combating the fire, had to be grounded due to a private drone operating in the vicinity. Incident controller Steve Kennedy highlighted the significant safety risk these drones pose to helicopter pilots during a critical media briefing.

“This morning we had to bring our helicopters down because they actually cannot fly when there's private drones flying around that area,” Kennedy explained, emphasizing the gravity of the situation.

Inspector Ash Tabb elaborated on the regulations surrounding drone flights, noting that drones cannot operate within four kilometers of any aircraft taking off or landing. The appearance of a drone in the airspace not only puts pilots at risk but also significantly delays firefighting operations, with each sighting grounding helicopters for up to an hour.

The Fight on the Ground

Despite these aerial setbacks, firefighters, some traveling from as far away as Nelson and Tasman, have been diligently working to extinguish hotspots, particularly on old “skid sites” from forestry operations. These sites require heavy machinery to unearth and extinguish lingering fires. The use of drones and helicopters has been crucial in identifying these hotspots, with operations manager Rob Hands surveying the extensive damage caused by the fire.

Preparations for Adverse Weather

Adding to the complexity of the firefighting efforts are the impending strong winds forecasted for Monday. With gusts up to 80kph expected, firefighters spent Sunday strengthening containment lines in anticipation. The fire, now contained within a 15-miles perimeter, poses an ongoing threat, especially with the potential for strong winds to reignite and spread the flames.

Community and Safety First

The local state of emergency remains in effect, underscoring the seriousness of the situation. Christchurch City Council fire controller Neville Riley and other officials have urged the public to stay clear of the area, not only for their safety but to ensure the effectiveness of the emergency response efforts.

A Unified Front Against the Fire

The battle against the Port Hills fire is a testament to the resilience and dedication of firefighters, emergency personnel, and the community. As they face the dual challenges of containing the blaze and navigating the hazards posed by private drones, the focus remains on safety and prevention. With continued cooperation from the public and the tireless efforts of those on the frontline, there is hope that the region will soon see relief from this crisis.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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