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Photography News

$75,000 In Rewards Offered To Catch Drone Operators Who Interfered During Wildfires

By Hanssie on July 30th 2015

It’s wildfire season here in Southern California and over the last few months, firefighters have been hard at work keeping a number of blazes under control. During three major wildfires this summer, drone operators have interfered with firefighting efforts by flying their UAV’s above the smoke and flames. This has forced firefighters to delay water dropping aircrafts for precious minutes.

Drones are very dangerous to firefighters and aircrafts that are battling blazes as the risk for collision is high. Tanya discussed this issue in her article, DRONES AND PLANES DON’T MIX! DRONES POSE THREAT TO FIREFIGHTERS, last year. Because drones (UAV’s) are considered aircrafts, firefighters are not allowed to take them down, but a law was introduced last week would allow officials to disable any drones that are hindering emergency responders from doing their jobs during a fire. Another piece of legislation that was introduced would be to make flying a drone over a forest fire a misdemeanor, and yet another bill proposed would make it a federal offense – and with comes a hefty fine and prison.

Officials say that the interference of five drones during the recent North fire next to Interstate 15 forced firefighters to ground their aircrafts for 25 minutes. That fire ended up jumping the freeway and destroyed numerous vehicles in its wake.

As for the $75,000 in rewards, $25,000 is being offered for information that could lead to the conviction and arrest of the drone operators in each of the three fires – the Mill 2 fire, Barton Flats fire and the North fire. A tip line has been set up by San Bernardino County officials and those with information are encouraged to call: 1-800-78-CRIME.

[Via Gizmodo]


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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    Laws should be revised to charge those flying drones that interfere with public safety and rescue operations with domestic terrorism charges. This past week, a plane flying into Laguardia reported that he flew just 100 feet above a drone. The penalties for the drone operators interfering with public safety and rescue, and the green laser flashers need to be made much harsher.

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  2. Michael Burnham

    Fist, Don’t fly drones close to forest fires. It’s that simple. Safety first, that includes the safety of the firefighters on the ground and in the air. Maybe the state could develop a permit process and clear guidelines for drones and drone operators that is similar to what new helicopters adhere to.

    Second I would like to hear a legal experts view on the liability the drone operator has in these situations. If I owned one of the vehicles that burned up on the I-15 I would be ready to sue the drone operator for the replacement cost of my car. What if it had jumped the freeway into a residential neighborhood because air drops couldn’t be made to stop the fire from jumping the freeway. Would home owners have a right to sue the drone operator for the loss of their home?

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  3. Dustin Baugh

    There are already rules for news organizations when they fly their helicopters or have cameras around an emergency scene. The difference is there is some accountability. If they break the rules we know and can fine them or ban them.

    The fact that we don’t even know who endangered these firefighters lives shows how much work we need to do on fixing the problem. We can’t afford to have every firefighter team to deploy with a radio triangulation team to chase down and prosecute violaters, they have enough on their plates as it is.

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  4. Alexander Europa

    Photographers and drone operators need to be smarter about what they do when documenting extremely dangerous, yet important, situations. Coordination with the local authorities would be a far better solution than trying to be sneaky. I really hope that they don’t do a complete ban of flying drones over wildfires, and instead require photojournalists to work with the authorities to only fly drones when planes are not attempting to drop water.

    Drone use is NOT going away. History has shown as time and time again that banning the use of anything only causes more people to do it. Government officials really need to learn this lesson and figure out how to work with the people instead of constantly increasing the list of things we cannot do this “free” country.

    BTW, I don’t own any drones and don’t have any interest in using them in the future, so I don’t have a dog specifically in this fight. However, I appreciate the journalistic value that drone footage can add to a story about wildfire fighting.

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