California firefighters are growing increasingly irritated with the number of drones interrupting their work. CNN reported a blaze on a Los Angeles-area freeway roared for 20 minutes before firefighters could drop water buckets overhead due to the number of drones flying around.
"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," spokesman Eric Sherwin of the San Bernardino County Fire Department said Saturday.
The flames swept across four lanes of traffic on Interstate 15, near the El Cajon pass, Friday. Gridlocked traffic led to drivers fearing for their lives. A team of around 1,000 firefighters were on call. The likelihood of further wildfires increases as the California drought continues.
After the five unmanned aircraft left the area, firefighters resumed dropping water, but the identities of the drones' owners remain a mystery. This is due to the fact that the professionals on call needed to focus on putting out the fire rather than chasing after rogue drones.
— SB County Fire (@SBCOUNTYFIRE) July 17, 2015
Drones hold promise for several industries, with Google patenting a fleet of drone ambulances and Amazon moving toward drone delivery services. However, the El Cajon incident serves as a reminder of the importance of safe drone use. As the debate over drone regulation continues, the Federal Aviation Administration has placed a temporary flight restriction around wildfires. Individuals found to be violating the restriction could face possible fines of $25,000.
In the end, 3,500 acres were scorched, with 64 vehicles destroyed in the blaze, 20 of which were on the interstate. The incident prompted a sharp response from the U.S. Forest Service. "Please stop flying hobby drones in the area," spokesperson Gerrelaine Alcordo said. "We can't risk the choppers colliding with them. We could have loss of life."