Drone pilot on mill fire: 'I wanted to show people what it looked like'

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - A year ago Friday, Bob DuBois saw the column of smoke outside his window.

"It was just a big wall of gray. It was solid," DuBois recalled of July 17, 2014. "I was going, 'oh, that's big, that's bad, whatever it is'."

The fire loomed so large, he thought it had to be close.

"Grab the drone that I've got and shot it up in the air," DuBois recalled. "I saw that it was way over there, at the mill."

He drove down Main Street because he knew he could get a better shot.

"The fire was, as you can see, just filled the sky from where I was at down here on the ground," DuBois said. "It was amazing."

DuBois saw helicopters battling the flames, so he kept the drone at a safe distance.

"I wanted to get a good view. I wanted to show people what it looked like," he said.

The drone did the job.

"It was the best way to get an aerial shot of everything, and it does change the perspective so much," DuBois said.

DuBois shared the video with KVAL News on the day of the fire. Due to a lack of regulations on drone video, the footage couldn't be aired at the time. A photo taken by Stephen Boulton, director of the Lane Aviation Academy, provided a look at the fire from the air.

Additional clarity on the topic of drone video in the past year led to changes that now allow some drone footage gathered by citizen journalists to be used by the news media.

No one was injured in the fire, although firefighting and debris contributed to the death of fish in a nearby waterway. The regional air authority said debris contained asbestos.

The 250 people who worked for the Swanson Group at the mill watched their jobs go up in smoke.

The company is working to rebuild on the site.

For DuBois, it's a memory he watched through his first-person viewfinder attached to the camera on his drone.

"I've seen devastation with bombs. I was in the military. And they drop a lot of bombs from a very large plane. You can see the devastation," he said. "It looks pretty similar to that right there."

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