Supervisors to consider reward to find wildfire drone operators

Supervisors to consider reward to find wildfire drone operators

24 July 2015

published by   

USA–As drone legislation creeps through Congress and the state Legislature, San Bernardino County supervisors may use cash to try to thwart people from flying drones above wildfires.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider setting aside $75,000 in potential reward money for tipsters. The funds would be paid to people who help authorities arrest and convict drone operators who interfered with firefighting efforts at three recent wildfires.

At the Lake, Mill 2 and North fires, firefighting aircraft were temporarily grounded because drones flew above the fires, presenting a hazard to pilots. If the measure passes, $25,000 would be set aside for each of the three fires.

“What’s on the agenda is actions that have already taken place, so that’s what we can offer rewards for,” said board Chairman James Ramos, who brought the item to the board. “We don’t know what would happen in the future.”

If passed, he said, he hopes it might deter others from flying drones over future fires.

On July 17, the North fire ignited near the 15 Freeway in the Cajon Pass. Before the fire jumped the freeway and destroyed or damaged 30 vehicles, five drones were spotted above the fire. Planes and helicopters that drop flame retardant or water were ordered away from the area for the pilots’ safety.

“If a bird can take down an airplane, absolutely a drone can as well,” said Capt. Liz Brown, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.

Investigators haven’t determined how big an impact the halting of airborne firefighting efforts had on the fire. But Ramos wondered, if aircraft weren’t turned away, could the flames have been contained before they burned the congested freeway?

Aircraft are essential to fighting wildfires, according to Brown. Even if they don’t completely quell the blaze, the flame and water drops slow the fire’s progress so ground troops and hand crews can catch up to the head of the fire.

“Now, we have a faster moving fire based on the drought,” Brown said.” And now we have a necessary tool that we can’t use for no reason except that someone doesn’t want to do the right thing.”

There are no laws specifically barring people from flying drones — normally used to take pictures or video — above wildfires.

However, drone users can be charged up to a $1,000 fine under the broad statute of interfering with firefighting efforts.

The state Legislature is considering a bill that would increase the penalty to up to $2,000 if the interference is caused by a drone or $5,000, if someone knowingly, intentionally or recklessly violates that statute with a drone.

Also, a temporary flight restriction, or TFR, is normally put in place over wildfires, meaning only firefighting agencies can fly there.

“Any unmanned aircraft operator who violates a TFR and endangers the safety of manned aircraft could be assessed a civil penalty for careless or reckless operation of an aircraft,” said Lynn Lunsford, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.

Those civil penalties can range from $1,000 to $25,000, she said.

Congress is considering several pieces of legislation regarding drone use by hobbyists.

“This is version 1.0, so there is no case law, there is no legislation, nothing,” Brown said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien