Drones force helicopters down

Fire crews battle a large hay-bale fire in Broken Hut Rd, near Omarama, yesterday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Fire crews battle a large hay-bale fire in Broken Hut Rd, near Omarama, yesterday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Those responsible for flying drones in the same area as a large hay-bale fire near Omarama yesterday have been called "foolish''.

The drones forced the grounding of helicopters helping douse the blaze.

About 25 firefighters from Omarama, Kurow and Twizel rushed to the scene in Broken Hut Rd, south of Omarama, after the fire erupted about 12.20pm when a large number of hay bales ignited.

The owner of the property, who did not wish to be named, said initial reports that a barn had been destroyed in the blaze, which had then spread to nearby trees, were incorrect.

He was frustrated that he was unable to access the area during the blaze.

"It's hay that's combusted and caught on fire that's been baled three weeks ago.

"It ignited into some silage tyres, so it jumped into them about 200m away and burnt them. That's pretty much it.''

He said the fire, which covered about 2ha, was contained late yesterday afternoon and at least one digger would be used to dig a large hole to bury the hay.

Senior Constable Peter Scott, of Kurow, said police became involved after two drones were seen in the area. Their presence grounded the helicopters for safety reasons.

They could be controlled from 5km away so it was difficult to find those controlling them, he said.

After a safety meeting, the helicopter crews decided they would fly again, and there were no further sightings of the drones.

"I'm hoping that the people who were flying them realised that they were being foolish once they saw that the helicopters were grounded.''

Snr Const Scott said drones could have a massive impact on other people's safety.

"To fly drones in an area where helicopters were dropping water buckets on a serious rural fire was very foolish.''

Police also contacted Glide Omarama to ensure gliders stayed away from the area.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand shift manager Andrew Norris said high winds hampered crews' early efforts.

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