Officials have determined the cause of the Table Mountain Fire, which burned 52 acres near Longmont on Wednesday, forcing evacuations amid dangerous weather conditions.
According to the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, the short-lived Colorado blaze was sparked when researchers associated with the UC Boulder Aerospace Engineering Department crashed an unmanned aircraft into the ground at a high rate of speed. Upon collision, the aircraft's lithium ion battery ignited. The crew attempted to stop the fire with an on-site fire extinguisher, but were unsuccessful given the strong winds.
The researchers remained on site. At the time of the crash, they were flying according to regulations and the capability of the machine. They will not be charged criminally due to the accidental nature of the crash, which occurred during legal activity.
While this accident took place in a research setting, this incident can also serve as an important example for recreational and commercial drone operators. Drone and other unmanned aerial vehicle crashes can result in wildfires, often with some sort of battery failure that results in ignition being the culprit. Keep this in mind while flying around natural areas and avoid flying during days when fire risk is high. Keep batteries maintained and protected to prevent ignition.
It's also important to note that drones should never be flown near active wildfires, as this can prevent firefighting crews from conducting crucial operations.
As wildfires continue to occur frequently in Colorado, it's important to know what restrictions and related alerts may be active. Check with local governments for information regarding fire bans and check with the National Weather Service for updates about when fire risk is high due to weather conditions.
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