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Fire Officials: Hobby Drones Hamper Firefighting In California

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio
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Federal and state fire officials are urging drone hobbyists to keep their unmanned aerial vehicles out of the sky during firefighting operations. Ed Joyce reports from Sacramento.

Hobby drones caused the suspension of aerial operations recently as crews were fighting wildfires in three national forests in California. Shawna Legarza is the Fire and Aviation Director for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region.

Legarza: "When we shut down the aviation, that's the air tankers and the helicopters, that's the people in the air that are providing support to the ground firefighters and protecting the homes and the public and the people of California."

Hobby drones caused air operations to stop as crews battled wildfires in the Lassen, Plumas and San Bernardino National Forests. Dave Teter is Deputy Director of Fire Protection for CAL FIRE.  He says suspending air efforts endangers fire crews.  

Teter: "While that operation is suspended, the fires have and will continue to grow, they will become more difficult and more challenging to suppress. They will become larger, potentially more damaging and most certainly, more costly to fight."

It's currently a misdemeanor to interfere with firefighters in California.

Two state lawmakers say they'll introduce legislation to increase fines and add jail time for anyone who uses an unauthorized drone that interferes with firefighting.

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