Drones causing problems for firefighters

Drones have interfered with firefighting efforts 11 times so far in 2017

KUSA - Firefighters are making pleas for people to stop flying drones near wildfires.

Getting that bird's eye view can put lives at risk. It's a problem that's popping up across Colorado.

If caught the drone pilot can go to jail or pay thousands in fines.

Near Durango a helicopter was forced to land because of a drone as the Lightner Creek fire scorched more than 400 acres.

"They endangered the pilots, they endangered the land and homes of people along this valley, it's so irresponsible, it's absurd," said Susan Barrett, who was evacuated by the fire.

There was also a close call near Sedalia on Saturday.

"If that time was off anymore the helicopter would have had to leave," said Eric Hurst with South Metro Fire Rescue.

If there's a drone in the air firefighters don't know about the helicopters and planes actually fighting the fire have to be grounded until the drone operator is found, putting too much at stake.

"We are worried about a collision," said Hurst. "Worst case scenario, if firefighters found themselves trapped they may rely on a drop or an aircraft to stop the fire from getting to them. In a different scenario, we may be dropping fire retardant or water to stop from burning someone’s home." 


"If it hit the engine just right, it could take that plane down," said Kerry Garrison, a FAA certified drone pilot.

Certified pilots are in solidarity with a nationwide plea to keep drones on the ground during emergencies.
    
"Time and again we see common sense isn’t that common," said Garrison.
    
This year drones interfered with aerial firefighting 11 times in five other states, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

"Be cognizant of whose life you could be putting in danger," said Garrison.

Whether there is a temporary no fly zone or not, it's a misdemeanor to put firefighters at risk.

That can carry up to a year in jail and a $250 to $1,000 fine.
 
Obstructing government operations is also a misdemeanor that can carry up to six months in jail and $50 to $750 fine.
 
Drone operators can also get in trouble for breaking federal laws.

Near Durango, investigators identified one drone pilot and three more are being investigated.
Some agencies are starting to tweet with the hashtag  "if you fly we can't" to point out just how seriousness of the problem.

 

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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