A drone flying near a wildfire in Northern California forced helicopters to stay grounded -- and the California High Patrol (CHP) was not happy about it. On Sunday, it posted an all-uppercase warning to the public on Facebook: "FIRE FIGHTING PLANES CANNOT FLY IF YOUR DRONE IS IN THE AIR." Police found and cited a 24-year-old man for flying the drone, according to The Mercury News. The pilot had been flying the drone in the vicinity of Petaluma Municipal Airport, forcing air traffic controllers to ground all craft until the drone no longer posed a danger to helicopter blades and engines. "They shouldn't be flying over any of the affected areas -- notably airports," CHP officer Jonathan Sloat told Mashable in a phone interview. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made it illegal for drones to interfere with firefighting operations anywhere in the country -- whether intentional or not.
As at least three major wildfires rage across the American southwest, the people tasked with controlling them are contending with an unusual problem beyond the flames themselves: Drones. Officials say that small personal drones are increasingly being spotted flying near or above wildfires, interfering with aircraft used for aerial firefighting and firefighter transport operations. Small drones operating near wildfires put those aircraft at risk of collision. It's unclear why people are flying drones near wildfires, but it's likely they're being used to record video footage of the blazes. Firefighters spotted two drones in their air crew's operating area on Wednesday in Arizona, the Arizona Republic reports.
The Pentagon, the world's largest user of drones, has posted a new policy on signs outside the mammoth five-sided building: No Drone Zone. The signs, complete with a red slash through an image of a quadcopter drone, reflect America's growing concern about the proliferation of the small, inexpensive remote-controlled devices and the risk they pose to safety, security and privacy. Federal law prohibits flying a drone anywhere in and around Washington, an area known as the National Capital Region. Other communities and institutions across the country are wrestling with the potential threat from more than 400,000 private and commercial drones now registered to operate in the skies. The pilot of a commercial jetliner said his plane nearly collided with a drone while approaching Los Angeles International Airport on Friday afternoon, sparking a search by L.A. police and sheriff's officials for the owner of the unmanned aircraft.
Smoke from devastating wildfires is covering three quarters of the State of California. Property and lives are at stake like never before. Emergency response personnel and resources are stretched to their absolute limits. And drone pilots are getting in the way. Yesterday, the FAA sent out a plea (and a warning), saying that drones and wildfires don't mix.