Drones in Fire Zones Could Be Outlawed

Drones in Fire Zones Could Be Outlawed
File photo by Pete/Flickr

Idiots flying drones over active brush fires shut down aerial firefights twice so far this summer. Both incidents happened in Southern California, during the Lake and Sterling fires in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Steve Gage of the U.S. Forest Service says, "We will stop air tankers from dropping fire retardant, helicopters from dropping water and other aerial firefighting aircraft from performing wildfire suppression missions until we can confirm that the drone has left the area and we are confident it won’t return."

The technology is new enough that specific legislation is lacking, although feds' temporary no-fly zones often apply to fire areas, according to the service.

This week L.A.-area state Assemblyman Mike Gatto, with the backup of Sen. Ted Gaines of El Dorado, stepped up with a bill that, if passed, would make flying unmanned aerial vehicles over fire zones a "serious state crime," according to a statement from Gatto's office.

"There can be no patience with persons or groups who would risk others’ lives in this way," Gatto says.

Authorities say the drones are a danger to tankers and smokejumper parachute crews dispatched to fight SoCal's notorious wildfires.

Flights are grounded, and in some cases have had "to discharge their critical, flame-retardant loads in areas not affected by fire and wasting crucial material," states Gatto's office.

Gaines says:

One tanker drop could literally be the difference between life and death or a tract of homes going up in flames. To think that someone would interfere with firefighting efforts to get a sneak peek at the fire or to post a drone video on YouTube is an outrage that is deserving of punishment and condemnation.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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