By Michael Martinez, Paul Vercammen and Ben Brumfield, CNN

Of all the elements they must battle in a wildfire, firefighters face a new foe: drones operated by enthusiasts who presumably take close-up video of the disaster.

Five such "unmanned aircraft systems" prevented California firefighters from dispatching helicopters with water buckets for up to 20 minutes over a wildfire that roared Friday onto a Los Angeles area freeway that leads to Las Vegas.

Helicopters couldn't drop water because five drones hovered over the blaze, creating hazards in smoky winds for a deadly midair disaster, officials said.

The North Fire torched 20 vehicles on Interstate 15 and incited panic among motorists who fled on foot on the freeway Friday. The wildfire continued to burn uncontrollably Saturday, scorching 3,500 acres with only 5% containment in San Bernardino County.

Drones hovering over wildfires is a new trend in California, and on Saturday, fire officials condemned the operators of "hobby drones," as officials labeled them. It was unclear Saturday whether authorities would launch an investigation into the five drones.

"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," said spokesman Eric Sherwin of the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Full story here Drones cause a hazard

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  • And, what makes them so sure they're "hobby drones" and not news agencies, or professionals getting stock footage for the film industry? 
    This is all simply media hype..  I mistakenly called them media whores a few posts back, but media 'johns' would be more appropriate.  They just blindly buy into the media hysteria, and create this shit.  (attractive poster as it is, it's printed w/ speculation and slander)

  • To the people saying a couple pounds of carbon fiber is dangerous compared to a bird, I've got to say, maybe you're fortunate enough to have never crashed your drone.... But I have.. .and carbon fiber shatters like glass. 

    The only part of our drones that won't destroy itself and dissapate the energy on impact are the motors.  BUT, the motors are attached to the frame that will shatter and dissipate the energy.  So the motors should have a minimum impact. 

    Someone just needs to shoot a few drones at a few aircraft and put this to bed. 
    and, I don't mean a cannon, like bird-shots.  drones are generally stationary or moving slowly.   So, run a chopper into a stationary little inch big rock would be about the equivalent of a drone hitting a chopper, at worst.

  • 1) In fact there is drone pilots from news channel and he DON't voilating any laws, cos laws just not regulate such situations. If they lose his drone NOBODY ANY problem or claims from ANY SIDE cos dangerous environment and situation.

    2) Firefiter pilots demonstrate very stupid and unporofessoinal behavior. 

    He failed his job under false pretenses, threfore risking the lives of people and MUST by punished.
    3) Trash chat and nonsense histeria just trash and hysteria - no more. =)
  • This is a complex issue, but the drone pilots are certainly at fault in this situation. I don't see any issue with allowing the firefighters to eliminate/down drones that are violating emergency airspace. Dump water on them, trash them, whatever counter-measure they want. Same as you would a car parked in front of a fire hydrant. Removed by any means necessary, end of story. Those drone pilots are forfeiting their right to their property by operating illegally. These crews need to take action and not throw their hands in the air and claim defeat. Educating the public with posters like this is a good idea, I'm certain that most of these pilots are simply ignorant of the interference they are causing. But expecting bad drone operators all to simply wise up and take note is naive. 

  • Very small chance to contact drone and tail rotor.
    See aerodynamic of heli - big vortex around main rotor w duble diamaters just sweep away any object.

    Material main rotor is VERY hard and expensive. Only dangerous configuration is still under drone positions.
    The Pilot of hovering helicopter easy detect and down the obstructive drones if they REALLY want make his job NOT trash chat.

  • You could be entirely right Tom,

    But I suspect we will never know.

    It's news when we hear that "Drones stopped fire fighters!"

    Not so much if it turns out the whole thing had no substance.

    We live in a time where the cry "Drone!" is used to incite the masses and the politicians.

    I do think that all this negative reaction will definitely make it clear to even the generally unaware that flying quadcopters anywhere near an emergency situation is likely to be a bad idea.



  • The assumptions in many of these posts are that the problem was created by idiot operators of the drone(s) (one report said that 5 (!!) drones were sighted.) But that situation has what I'd call extenuating circumstances. I'm pretty familiar with the area and in fact happened to pass through just 3 hours before the fire.

    One newspaper account, not widely cited, said there is a popular drone flying site not far from where the fire was. This is a somewhat remote area, comprised of BLM and Forest Service land, and thus flying of RC models/drones is perfectly legal. It's not unreasonable to assume any operators who might have been at that site seeing a new and rapidly evolving smoke plume would send their craft over to have a look and see what was going on. I would. And if I then saw any emergency aircraft I'd get the hell outta there. And due to the fine reporting on this incident, we don't know if whoever was operating the drones did the same thing.

    Furthermore, when the fire began, traffic on I-15 though Cajon Pass came to a dead stop, both directions. And it's a Friday afternoon, people heading out of town. I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone with a Phantom or the like in their not-moving vehicle, launched it in an effort to figure out what was happening up ahead.

    My point is this.....I doubt operators showed up with drones when they heard of the fire as is assumed by many of the posters. The fact is, nobody could get there, not even the emergency responders. It was gridlocked. I suspect the drones where launched by people either stuck in traffic or legally operating nearby in an effort to assess the situation.

  • Hi George,

    I agree that it is possible that over-reaction may have happened and that it may have been intentional.

    However, I question that suspension of service in the middle of an emergency is a reasonable circumstance for making a public statement (if that is what is happening).

    Seems like the single place where anything other than the most appropriate to the emergency response would be - simply - wrong!

    And emergency service commanders, I would think, should know that better than anyone.

    Unfortunately, we are in a position where "drones"  are very newsworthy and everything is blown out of proportion almost immediately.

    It would make a good Fellini comedy if it didn't have such potentially counter productive implications.

    Best Regards,


  • What proportion of these 'what an idiot!' incidents are reckless/malicious, vs simply ignorant/unaware, I do wonder?

    I suspect there's a fair amount of the latter going on, given the dramatic recent growth in drone possession. Otherwise-generally-responsible people get excited by the novelty of their own personal eye-in-the-sky, and get carried away.

    I hope so, anyway. (Of course, there are also plenty of a@@holes out there).

    The point I'm getting to is that awareness is probably lagging proliferation, and if so, it may require exactly this kind of overly-dramatic, news-making hissy-fit to start drumming it in that there are rules and regulations that need to be followed.

    Unfortunately, in this day and age, if the authorities don't over-react, it doesn't make the news, and so it never happened.


  • Gary. You make a good point. This should not be guesswork. Consumer drones should probably be certified to not take out a turbine or tail rotor. Has anyone tested phantoms, DJI S900 etc by throwing them at rotors. You think they would. I have always thought the risk of these UAVS are pretty small. Larger motors and 3mm CF plate may present a bigger hazard I would guess.
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