Special Report: Drones causing chaos for California firefighters

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Drones are causing chaos for California firefighters. As we head into fire season, they want to make it clear, flying unmanned aircraft over a wildfire is illegal and unsafe not only for the firefighters, but for the residents they’re trying to protect.

“They are a hindrance and they have been issue for us,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell.

More and more often, hobbyist drones are attempting to get those one-of-kind shots, over California’s wildfires. The discovery of a drone over a Santee vegetation fire, June 27, 2018, shut the air crew’s firefight down.

But it’s the gorgeous scenic pictures, bird’s eye video and the likes on social media that beckon people into becoming drone hobbyists. It’s why the FAA predicted the number of small hobbyist drones in the United States, will triple to about 3.55 million in 2021.

“It gets in the way. It gets in our airspace,” said Cal Fire Capt. Issac Sanchez. “What will happen generally is speaking is, airtankers with come in and make their drops. They will go away to reload at the reload base which is in Ramona. And at that point that’s when the helicopters will move in. And it’s repeated until the incident is over.

So when we have such tight controls around our own resources, it’s for a very specific reason, so we can operate safely. And when you introduce a third party, we have no control over it. And we don’t know what the results could potentially be, should there be an intrusion or an impact with an aircraft.

A drone can bust a helicopter window. It can get caught up in the rotor. It can not only do some major damage, but it can actually bring a huge, ten-thousand pound helicopter down. With the price of drone technology dropping, it’s in the hands of a lot more people. And already, the number of times fire-crews in the air have been forced to land continues to rise, the U.S. Forest service reports that in 2016 alone, unauthorized drone flights grounded firefighting aircraft at least 13 times.

Two years later, even with the threat of criminal charges, and civil fines up to $25,000, it’s still happening.

Categories: Local San Diego News

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