US Forest Service "If You Fly, We Can't" poster
US Forest Service poster

“We want to know who was flying drones, and we want them punished. Someone knows who they are, and there is $75,000 waiting for them.”

Drone operators have been asked repeatedly not to fly their aircraft during wildfires. But at crucial moments in each of the wildfires that have broken out in San Bernardino County so far this year, fire-fighting air tankers had to be diverted away from their targets because of the presence of small airborne hobby drones.

The Board of Supervisors decided asking is no longer enough and this week created a $75,000 reward fund for the arrest and conviction of anyone who flew any remote control-operated aircraft and interfered with fire-fighting aircraft during the recent Lake, Mill 2, and North fires. [Note the North Fire was in 2015.]

“In the most recent fire, the North Fire, we saw cars and trucks burning on the freeway, we saw homes burn, and we saw families running for their lives,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos. “We want to know who was flying drones, and we want them punished. Someone knows who they are, and there is $75,000 waiting for them.”

Sheriff John McMahon said his department will actively pursue drone operators in addition to its other vital duties during wildfires. And District Attorney Mike Ramos warned drone operators that they could and would be prosecuted for murder if their drones led to the death of a fire-fighting flight crew or anyone on the ground. Those with information on anyone who flew drones during those fires are urged to call WeTip at 1-800-78-CRIME. Callers can remain anonymous.

sUAS news is not the only site reporting this story. Digital Trends writes that

The nation’s logistical and support center for wildland firefighting is wondering what part of “keep your drones away from wildfires” people don’t understand.

An increasingly exasperated National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) said Thursday that air operations aimed at tackling wildfires have been suspended four times this year after quadcopters were spotted flying nearby. In all, drones have been seen flying over 12 wildfires on the West Coast in the last six months, the NIFC confirmed.

I continue to report these stories because I believe that drones interfering with fire fighters is the tipping point issue that will turn the public against the industry. At the very least it will contribute to the growth of the dreaded “patchwork” of state and local legislation.
These guys have once again stirred up the San Bernadino hornet’s nest. Hopefully they will be caught soon and go down hard. The news media would do us all a favor if they make sure that they find time to cover the story loud and long when it happens.
If you want some context, I highly recommend Ravaged Woodlands in The Economist which looks at the effect of drought and global warming.


The scale of the tree loss is staggering. Last year over 10m of America’s 766m acres of forest were consumed by wildfires, sparked by lawn mowers, campers or lightning (see chart). This was the biggest area burned since 1960, when records began, despite a firefighting effort that involved over 30,000 people and cost the federal government over $2 billion.


read more at digital trends