Aug 28 2015

California Legislature Might Stop Drones from Flying Over Wildfires

Drones can be helpful, but they can also impede firefighting.

Between wildfires and the drought, nature has been putting a strain on the state of California. Low-flying planes and helicopters need ample airspace to douse the fires with water and flame retardant, but drones hovering above the blazes have hindered the process. It’s become so problematic that some government agencies are seeking to punish the drone pilots who inhibit firefighting activities.

While drones have been used to combat the fires by tracking their spread and helping to diagram attack methods, drones operated by hobbyists have obstructed firefighting efforts. The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for taking disciplinary action against any civilians caught invading restricted areas, Wired reports, but it’s a lengthy process.

“Ground-based law enforcement has to be empowered to catch and prosecute egregious violators,” state Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Ca.) said.

To expedite things, Gaines suggests that local law enforcement in California should be granted the power to arrest anyone who operates drones in prohibited airspace. Gaines is currently pushing two bills: one that would give local police authority over the infractions, and another that would shield law enforcement personnel from legal action if they damage drones during attempts to keep the public safe.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that some California officials are offering $75,000 for assistance in apprehending the drone operators who interrupted three major firefighting efforts this summer. Speaking with station KTLA, San Bernardino National Forest aviation officer Mike Eaton was blunt in his assessing how they should be dealt with.

“If you fly, we can’t,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Nuno André Ferreira/ThinkStock