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Drone over Testalinden Creek fire halts air firefighting efforts

Fire aircraft have been grounded south of Oliver, B.C., due to a drone operating in the area.
Fire aircraft have been grounded south of Oliver, B.C., due to a drone operating in the area.

Aircraft fighting the Testalinden Creek fire south of Oliver had to be grounded Sunday afternoon for several hours due to a drone operating in the area.

“It’s incredibly disconcerting. We’re in the midst of responding to this fire, and someone is putting our crew’s safety in jeopardy right now,” says Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer for the BC Wildfire Service.

“It’s very frustrating.”

In total, eight helicopters and an air tanker were pulled from service. The Testalinden Creek fire is currently 1,566 hectares and zero per cent contained.

READ MORE: Evacuation order lifted for one Oliver fire as conditions improve

It is illegal to operate drones near or over wildfires, but that hasn’t stopped people from doing so in B.C. this summer. Fire crews were forced to temporarily stop air operations on the Westside Road wildfire fight near Kelowna earlier this month because of drones flying overhead.

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“Drones have proliferated recently, they’re cheaper to access, [and] people need to realize they might seem small, they might seem non-threatening, but they still do pose a safety issue to our aircraft, especially when they’re operating at low altitude,” says Skrepnek.

READ MORE: Some calling for crackdown on recreational drones

Aircraft were back up fighting the fire by 5:30 p.m.

WATCH: The Testalinden Creek fire flared up on Sunday. Catherine Urquhart reports