Worse than annoying: Drones make it harder for California to fight a giant wildfire

Air tankers near Phelan, California.
Air tankers near Phelan, California.
Image: Reuters/Gene Blevins
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Only you can prevent wildfires—but using a drone could make one even worse.

A wildfire in California caused a devastating scene on the main road between Los Angeles and Las Vegas last week, when it scorched 20 cars and forced drivers to escape on foot. The fire continued to ravage the Los Angeles area this weekend and is now burning across 4,250 acres (1700 hectares), and is 75% contained according to local officials.

Attempts to control the blaze are also facing an unusual obstacle: drones being used by amateur videographers to film the blaze. Firefighting crews in the area spotted five so-called unmanned aircraft systems, which forced them to temporarily halt flights that are used to drop fire retardants on the blaze.

The San Bernardino fire department said they have seen an increase of drones interfering with firefighting. “A collision could easily result in major damage to our aircraft, injuries to the pilot and crew on board as well as firefighters below, and worse, a midair collision,” the department said. Crews “have no choice” but to ground aircraft until a drone is removed.

In the case of a wildfire, the Federal Aviation Administration imposes a temporary flight restriction, and anyone who violates it could face “serious criminal charges.”