Hobbyist's Drone Interferes With Air Drops on Wildfire

Forest Service says 3 planes had to scrap mission in California
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2015 12:03 PM CDT
Hobbyist's Drone Interferes With Air Drops on Wildfire
A California Highway Patrol officer stands by as a hillside burns in the background Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Rick McClure)

Somebody flying a drone over a raging California wildfire this week probably got some awesome photos. The problem for everyone else is that the 4-foot drone forced three planes that planned to drop retardant to scrap their missions, reports the Los Angeles Times. One was a DC-10 with about 11,000 gallons of the stuff. Instead of dropping it on the fire near Big Bear Lake, it detoured and dropped it on one near the Nevada border. The two smaller planes, however, simply jettisoned their load over no-man's land to ensure a safe landing. The Forest Service estimates it lost up to $15,000 because the drone operator, who wasn't caught, was flying way too high in restricted air space.

"It's infuriating," says a Forest Service spokesperson. “These folks who are handling these drones, I have to assume they have no idea what they're doing. They not only endangered the folks on the ground, but they endanger the pilots.” CBS Los Angeles explains that the planes can't simply try to fly around the drone because it might act like a "metal bird" and get sucked into an engine. It's not the first time a drone has interfered with firefighting, notes the Times, and authorities are trying to create greater awareness of the problem. The fire, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles, was only about 21% contained as of yesterday. (More drones stories.)

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