Americas Fire

Drones continue to hurt Southern California fire-fighting efforts


When a drone grounded aircraft that were trying to fight the North fire on Friday afternoon, it was only the latest in a series of recent incidents where a drone interfered with local firefighters — and, officials said, risked lives.

San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos on Friday said enough was enough, and that the board will be discussing at its next meeting on July 28 what it can do to crack down on drone operators endangering the safety of county citizens and public safety officials.

“When you’re inhibiting the response of the first responders, then you infringe on the safety of the residents of San Bernardino County,” Ramos said.

The board will discuss its options regarding the enforcement of existing laws on illegal drone use, as well as the possibility of offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of illegal drone operators who disrupt firefighters and police during emergencies.

Existing law includes a $1,000 fine for misdemeanor interference with firefighting efforts.

Other recent efforts to strengthen drone regulations include a federal bill by Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, and state legislation proposed by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) and Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado).

Efforts to fight recent wildfires have been repeatedly hampered by drones:

• Southern California’s first major wildfire of the season, the Lake fire in the San Bernardino Mountains, was interrupted on its first day by a drone.

It forced the air tanker pilots to jettison a total of about 2,000 gallons of retardant at a cost of roughly $15,000, U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Miller said. It also forced the grounding of three aircraft, including two air tankers preparing to drop retardant along the eastern flank of the fire.

“More importantly, it could’ve killed everybody in the air,” Miller said at a news conference the next day, which was held specifically to address the drone situation.

• Later the day of the news conference, a second drone interfered.

• Firefighters battling the Sterling fire in late June encountered two drones, one of which officials determined was flying legally. The other was over the fire, which is considered restricted airspace.

• During a 54-acre fire in the Yucaipa Ridge area last weekend, aerial firefighting had to be halted when fire officials spotted a private drone flying near the scene, authorities said.

Staff writers Ryan Hagen and Joe Nelson contributed to this report.

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