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Warning for Drone Pilots


Last updated 7/6/2017 at 11:08pm

Approaching peak fire season, hobbyist drones are a growing safety concern among local first responders fighting fires in the air and on the ground.

San Diego County Fire and CAL FIRE San Diego Unit officials are reminding hobby drone operators to steer clear of wildfires. Drones put first responders’ safety at risk, and they stop or slow firefighting operations.

“Very simply put: If you fly, we cannot fly,” said Tony Mecham, County Fire and CAL FIRE San Diego Unit Chief. “One of the most effective tools we have in the early stages of a fire is the use of aircraft. And when people fly drones, I do not think they understand the impact this has on the fire agencies. We have to pull all fire aircraft out of the area until we can find the drone owner to land the drone.”

State law makes it a crime to impede firefighting and other emergency activities by flying a drone at the scene of any emergency. It is also a crime to interfere with, or disobey the lawful orders of, firefighters or emergency rescue personnel who are responding to or fighting a fire.

For a whole hour recently, a drone disrupted the response to a brush fire near Camp Pendleton. The fire charred a canyon near a mobile home community, and only ground crews could work the scene. A drone had forced two firefighting tanker planes and two helicopters to divert to a nearby airstrip after ground fire crews. When fire crews determined that the drone no longer posed a risk, the tankers and helicopters continued working on the fire.

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