The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on July 28 to offer $75,000 in rewards for the public’s help in finding the hapless UAV pilots who interfered with firefighting helicopters during three wildfires this summer.
The latest happened last month — CNN reported that five drones hovered over the fire in places where helicopters had been sent to fight the fire – creating potentially unsafe flight conditions and delaying the sky-bound bucket brigades for up to 20 minutes. “Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities to report, but the 15 to 20 minutes that those helicopters were grounded meant that 15 to 20 minutes were lost that could have led to another water drop cycle, and that would have created a much safer environment and we would not have seen as many citizens running for their lives,” the San Bernardino County Fire Department spokesman Eric Sherwin told CNN.
“This type of activity is not going to be tolerated when first responders are trying to put out fires that drastically affect the constituents of San Bernardino County,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos.
The county will establish a hotline to collect tips. The $75,000 bounty will be split three ways to cover the three fires in which drones may have interfered. The summer blazes destroyed about 36,000 acres.
The reward is not the only weapon officials are deploying to stop drone-related mischief in emergencies.
Last week, Sen. Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado), along with Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), announced a plan to file a co-authored bill in the state Assembly later this summer. The bill “grants immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations.”
In a press release, Gaines said the firefighting drone debacles demonstrated the need to allow emergency responders a way to deal with errant UAVs in crisis situations.
“This is maddening and I can’t believe that hobby drones are risking people’s lives to get videos on YouTube,” Gaines said. “Cars were torched on the freeways because drones made aerial firefighting efforts impossible. This bill will help make sure the skies are clear of drones and that the brave men and women fighting these fires can do their job of protecting the public without worrying about frivolous lawsuits,” he added.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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