While drones can provide the best means for capturing video from a distance, firefighters are blasting their owners for letting the devices get in the way of being able to carry out their work safely.
Five personal drones prevented firefighting helicopters from dropping water from buckets to put out a forest fire that occurred over the weekend near a Los Angeles freeway in San Bernardino county.
Because the drones where flying above the flames – with the assumption that the owners were capturing video – they created smoky winds that blocked helicopters from being able hover above the fire. The drones cost the firefighters an extra 15 to 20 minutes to get the helicopters off the ground, while drivers on Interstate 15 left their vehicles to run for their lives.
— SB County Fire (@SBCOUNTYFIRE) July 17, 2015
Once the drones flew away, the firefighters were able to drop the water from the helicopters. According to the incident report, the drones caused "a major safety threat" to both the firefighters and the pilots.
"When a hobby drone is flown into a fire area, incident commanders have no choice but to suspend air operations and ground aircraft until the drone is removed from the area," the report says. That means the firefighters lost a water drop that could have helped prevent further spreading and damage.
The wildfire started on Friday and continued through Saturday, burning across 3,500 acres of forest and torching 20 cars on the freeway. There were no reported fatalities or injuries, but, flying the personal drones nevertheless came at the safety of the motorists.
Incredible #NorthFire and #PineFire pics provided to #LASD by @stuartpalley pic.twitter.com/fxfqv2SX66 — LA County Sheriff's (@LASDHQ) July 18, 2015
Fire officials said deploying unmanned aerial drones over fires appears to be a new trend in California and criticized the owners. The firefighters did not confirm who was operating the drones since they were focusing their efforts on battling the fire, but the Federal Aviation Administration placed temporary flight restrictions around wildfires to prevent an instance like this from occurring again.
Those who fly personal drones over wildfires could face a fine of $1,000 to $25,000, if they are using their device in a dangerous or illegal manner.
It took about 1,000 firefighters, 22 fire engines, four water trucks, three helicopters, seven airplanes and a bulldozer to fight the California forest fire.
California is suffering from a four-year drought, which is increasing fears regarding the possibility of more wildfires.
Photo: California National Guard | Flickr