Officials: Drone operators impede California firefighter efforts

By Ray Downs  |  Oct. 16, 2017 at 11:37 PM
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Oct. 16 (UPI) -- As firefighters worked to put out wildfires that have rampaged Northern California, authorities said that drone operators are hindering firefighting efforts by flying their machines in the area.

The California Highway Patrol announced the arrest of at least one drone operator for the offense of flying in a wildfire area. In a Facebook post, the law enforcement agency said Cal Fire, the state's forestry and fire protection service, reported multiple drones in the area.

Using all uppercase letters for emphasis, the CHP warned on Facebook: "FIRE FIGHTING PLANES CANNOT FLY IF YOUR DRONE IS IN THE AIR!"

They added: "Land them if you want these fires out!"

Nestor Rodriguez, 24, was arrested for allegedly flying a drone near an airport that Cal Fire helicopters were using, and officials said firefighting efforts there were stopped for 10 minutes.

Rodriguez was cited for impeding emergency personnel. He told police he did not know flying the drone in that area was illegal.

"The drone was not only potentially perilous for the helicopters landing at and leaving the airport, it also held up the operation endangering lives and further fire damage to an already fire ravaged area," the Petaluma Police Department said in a press release.

Drones are not a new problem for California firefighters. When wildfires burned in the state in 2015, a four-foot drone caused operations to shut down for one evening, which resulted in an additional 3.5 acres burned, KTLA-TV reported at the time.

San Bernardino County officials said drones also run the risk of being "sucked into jet engines, causing the engines to fail and the planes to crash."

"We don't want to deal with unknown aircraft in our airspace," said Mike Eaton, forest aviation officer for the San Bernardino National Forest. "They've got enough on their mind already...difficult terrain, difficult weather, winds and other things. They don't need to be worrying about model airplanes or drones."

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