Drones Hamper California Firefighters’ Efforts to Battle Wildfires

A spokesman for the San Bernardino Fire Department said drones created a dangerous situation for firefighters as they tried to contain wildfires July 17.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Firefighters were forced to stop dispatching helicopters over a wildfire in California when drones were seen hovering over the blaze.

With California in the middle of a historic drought, firefighters have been working around the clock to contain the massive fires, which recently burned 20 abandoned vehicles on Interstate 15 in the Los Angeles area.

However, five “hobby drones” forced helicopters transporting buckets of water to stay grounded, delaying the fire department’s response, CNN reports.

The unmanned aircraft systems grounded helicopters for up to 20 minutes on July 17 as the fire spread onto a freeway, forcing motorists to leave their cars.

A San Bernardino County Fire Department spokesman was critical of the operators, saying their drones prevented a water drop cycle “that would have created a much safer environment and we would not have seen as many citizens running for their lives.” There were no fatalities July 17, but the spokesmen said the fire department cannot risk having a helicopter collide with a drone in the air.

The Federal Aviation Administration put temporary drone flight restrictions around the fires and could fine drone operators as much as $25,000 for flying a drone dangerously.

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