SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Sacramento Metro firefighters fought a grass fire on an island in the American River Thursday night with the help of a drone.

Firefighters said the fire was burning on Rio Island, a dense and fairly large island in the river. Due to the location, crews had to be transported by boat with their equipment to fight the fire.

“The drone operator was able to provide the crew with where to dock the boat, where to place equipment to be safe, the progression of the fire, where it was located,” said Diana Schmidt, Metro Fire Inspector.

The drone provided real-time pictures of the fire and help direct crews headed to the island by mapping the fire and directing firefighters where to land to effectively fight the blaze.

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Google maps revealed from the air what is difficult to see from the ground, a small island just south of Rio Americano High School. There are homes and buildings along both sides of the river.

Even though the fire was on a small uninhabited island with thick brush, firefighters needed to act swiftly because of the potential threat to nearby homes.

“As we all know, in the evenings along the American River the breeze picks up and any of those embers could have spread to adjacent banks of the American River line with homes,” said Schmidt.

Due to the visibility issues, the fire department’s drones are equipped with thermal cameras.

“[The drone] was paramount in keeping our crews safe and knowing how the fire was spreading and where we could safely put everyone,” said Schmidt.

Using hand tools, firefighters were able to put the fire out in short order. In all, the fire burned approximately an acre. Investigators believe it started from a campfire. It was contained by just after 11 p.m. Thursday.

Rio Island is near Mather, a no-fly zone, but Metro Fire said they’re clear to fly and deploy in no-fly zones with authorization from the FAA for these types of incidents.


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