Firefighting planes briefly grounded by drone over wildfire

AP News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2015 10:27 PM

YUCAIPA, Calif. (AP) — Authorities briefly grounded air tankers that were fighting a wildfire in Southern California on Sunday after a drone flew close to the blaze.

The planes fighting a 35-acre fire on the edge of the San Bernardino National Forest were grounded for about eight minutes until the drone left the area, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Carol Underhill said.

"That may not seem like a huge amount of time, but in a fire emergency every minute counts," Underhill said.

It was the fourth time in the last month that a drone disrupted efforts to suppress a California wildfire.

The Forest Service said a reconnaissance plane fighting a series of small wildfires in the Plumas National Forest in northeast California was grounded for about an hour and a half on June 29 after a drone flew in the area. Two tanker planes dropping retardant on a large wildfire in San Bernardino County, 90 miles east of Los Angeles, were briefly grounded June 24 and 25 when drones were spotted over the blaze.

Firefighting aircraft often fly low in the same airspace as drones. When they spot a drone, fire officials ground the planes out of fear of a collision.

Federal authorities place temporary restriction on air travel over a wildfire, and drone operators flying without permission over the blazes face fines.

"I know people are trying to get an eye view of the fire and post the video to YouTube. But it's not OK because you put the pilots' lives in danger and possibly people on the ground," Underhill said.