A new law proposed in California would allow firefighters to destroy drones flying in areas where emergency crews are working.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) and state Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) proposed a pair of bills on Monday designed to punish inconsiderate drone operators who endanger firefighters and emergency crews’ lives by flying their small aircraft near rescue operations.
SB 167 would impose a fine and possible jail time on anyone caught operating a drone near an active fire that would interfere “with the lawful efforts of a firefighter to extinguish the fire.” SB 168 would allow firefighters to shoot those drones out of the sky.
“We don’t imagine someone shooting it out of the sky,” Gatto told Bay Area public radio station KQED. “Yet the existing law is insufficient to provide law enforcement that clear authority to take it down.”
The problem is not a hypothetical one; last weekend, firefighters battling the North Fire on the 15 Freeway were forced to suspend their air operations for 15 to 20 minutes after at least five drones were spotted in the area, according to NBC Los Angeles. Officials said two of the drones actually gave chase to firefighting air units, which caused a delay that helped contribute to the fire’s quick growth.
Last month, air units battling the Lake Fire in the San Bernardino mountains were forced to land after spotting a drone in the area.
“We continue to see more and more incidents,” California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant told KQED. “We’re going to be working to determine the specific impact that these hobby drones have already had, the consequences that they had on those fires and then how we can move forward to continue to enforce the laws that currently exist.”
The U.S. Forest Service’s John Miller was more forceful in his criticism of the unmanned aircraft:
“It can kill our firefighters in the air…They can strike one of these things and one of our aircraft could go down, killing the firefighters in the air,” Miller told NBC. “This is serious to us. It is a serious, not only life threat, not only to our firefighters in the air, but when we look at the vehicles that were overrun by fire, it was definitely a life-safety threat to the motorists on Interstate 15.”
The North Fire was completely contained as of Tuesday morning, reports the Press-Enterprise. The fire torched 4,250 acres in the Cajon Pass and left dozens of burned-out cars littered along I-15.