Warning against 'drone watching' over wildfires

Posted Sep 18, 2018 by Tim Sandle
Flying drones has become a popular pastime among many, especially as the cost of entry-level drones has fallen. There's a time and a place, however, and flying drones over wildfires is likely to get the owner in trouble.
File photo: Fires left unattended with thick underbrush can set off large wildfires that consume eve...
File photo: Fires left unattended with thick underbrush can set off large wildfires that consume everything in sight.
The level of drone flying over wildfires in some parts of the U.S. has reached such high levels that a combination of firefighters, law enforcement and elected officials in one area have put together legislation intended to clamp down on this practice. This locale is Santa Clara County and officials have gotten serious about people flying recreational drones close to active wildfire areas.
Officials have now said, according to the Santa Clara Examiner, that if a person is caught flying a drone over or in close proximity to a wildfire the person faces having their drone confiscated and a fine being imposed. In serious cases, the drone controller or drone owner faces the prospect of arrest.
California has been hit heavily with wildfires over the past decade. As of September 2018, there has been a total of 6,188 fires which have devastated an area of 1,489,473 acres (equivalent to 6,027.68 square kilometers), based on California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center figures.
In several cases fire fighting operations have had to be halted due to the presence of drones, with the drones getting in the way of lanes, tankers and helicopters.
To crack down on drones whizzing over wildfires, especially in areas where public workers are attempting to address the fire, County supervisors have passed an ordinance that prohibits the operation of drones and has outlined a No Drone Zone public safety campaign, which alerts the local community to the risks and penalties. Fines for minor violations will be $500.
Quoted by the Mercury News, county Supervisor Mike Wasserman said: "It’s common sense. Public safety is first and paramount... there is no place for a drone to be in the way of firefighting operations."
In Santa Clara County there are in excess of 4,500 drones registered. In the U.S. as a whole, the Federal Aviation Administration calculates the number of registrants, in last fifteen months alone, to be around 770,000 drones.