Aerial Firefighters to Drone Operators: "If You Fly, We Can't"
Private drones have repeatedly disrupted firefighting efforts in California
Add this to the list of dumb things people do with drones.
Aerial firefighters battling one of the largest wildfires in California history had to shut down operations on several occasions in San Bernadino County and elsewhere due to drones — apparently sent by their owners to shoot video of the fires — intruding in the airspace. The drones stopped helicopters from carrying water and planes from dousing flames with fire retardants, since unmanned aircraft can collide with helicopters or be sucked into jet engines, causing planes to crash.
In Cajon Pass this July, drones forced aerial firefighters to abandon efforts to douse burning cars in an out-of-control fire that jumped the highway. And KTLA news reported that aerial firefighters had to close operations at the Lake Fire after spotting a four-foot drone hovering in the airspace. The fire burned another 3.5 square miles before firefighters could return to the battle. Some firefighting planes have even been chased by drones, local news stations reported.
Drone experts are angered by the misuse of the technology.
“The question is, are these idiots flying drones around the wildfires in California spoiling drones for everyone?” asks Keven Gambold, CEO of Unmanned Experts, a drone consulting firm based in Colorado. “The answer is yes. You can’t regulate stupidity… Even if training and licensing was mandated, you have one bad apple causing an accident and that’s it.”
San Bernandino County officials are offering a $75,000 reward for information on the identities of the drone owners. The U.S. Forest Service has plans to use Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) similar to drones for its own work, such as locating wildfires or lost hikers, but its firefighters have been sorely frustrated by the renegade drones. The Forest Service recently began a public service campaign to explain why drones interfering with first responders is such a bad idea.