Some Hobbyists’ Drones Are Interrupting Firefighting Efforts In Northern California, Says FAA

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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There have been at least two instances of drones getting in the way of firefighting efforts undertaken in Northern California where a massive wildfire is ravaging the area, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Monday, according to CNBC.

One of the incidents occurred near or in Santa Rosa, Calif., last week, and another was in Petaluma, Calif., sometime Sunday. An arrest ensued from the latter alleged interference.

“We received two reports of incidents in which people flew drones in fire areas,” Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA’s Pacific Division, told CNBC. “We will look into both.”

Firefighters and other emergency responders have tried to diminish or at least contain the scope of the fire.

One method for combatting wildfires is surveying the scene from several different drone-enabled perspectives. Also known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), drones can give emergency officials an eagle-eye view to see the extent of the danger as well as if in any humans or critical infrastructure are in harm’s way. The imagery helps cultivate a comprehensive strategy. (RELATED: Operating A Drone For Profit Is Illegal Unless You Satisfy Tons Of Govt Rules)

But its not even authorities’ drones that officials seem to be worried about. Some say that certain drone hobbyists are getting in the way of their larger aircraft.

“Over the years, we have seen this problem become a trend,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said, according to CNBC. “When drones are flying in the same airspace we’re trying to use firefighting aircraft, like helicopters and air tankers, for the safety of our pilots we’ve got to pull those aircraft out of the sky and land them.”

Authorities reportedly made an arrest for one of the two alleged instances, and the FAA is likely investigating to see if further punishment is warranted.

The FAA and other authorities have fined people before for violating regulations when operating their drones. UAVs and federal UAV rules are relatively nascent but established enough for the FAA to levy a $55,000 penalty against a Minnesota resident who flew his drone to record a public event at the request of the host. (RELATED: California Is Fine With Smoking Weed, But Not If A Drone Delivers The Order)

In fact, officials arrested a man in California in July 2016 for flying his drone over a wildfire burning near Sacramento. He is believed to be the first man arrested in the state for such a violation.

The wildfires in the city of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, and general northern area of California started Oct. 8. They are causing dangerous situations for residents as far as San Francisco, where enormous amounts of smoke are engulfing the atmosphere. Forty-one people have died from the disaster so far, CNBC reports.

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