Supes OK strict penalties for flying drones near wildfires



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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to support state and federal legislation that would establish penalties for operators of unmanned aircraft that interfere with firefighting efforts.

Under Supervisor Bill Horn’s unanimously approved motion, the county will lobby for passage of two bills in particular, including House Resolution 3025 by Rep. Paul Cook, R- Apple Valley, which would make an interfering drone operator subject to a fine and up to five years in federal prison.

SB 167, by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, and Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D- Glendale, would also set up fines and jail sentences. Punishment would range from fines of $200 to $2,000, or for intentional and reckless acts, up to six months in jail and/or a fine of $5,000.

No members of the public spoke for or against Horn’s motion, which did not specify support for a companion state legislative proposal that would give firefighters authority to disable drones operating in fire areas.

The board passed the measure without comment.

In a memo to board colleagues, Horn said a drone prevented aerial drops of fire retardant in the early stages of a June wildfire that burned more than 31,000 acres and several structures in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Fire officials said a drone also got in the way of efforts to battle a brush fire last month in the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County; the blaze eventually torched numerous vehicles on Interstate 15.

Horn said the issue was especially critical in San Diego County, which is prone to major wildfires.

“In those (early) moments, it will be crucial that all of our aerial resources are able to contribute, as safely as possible, to containing the fire and preventing it from spreading,” Horn said.

“Interfering with aerial firefighting operations, with drones or otherwise, exacerbates an already dangerous situation for firefighters, both on the ground and in the air, and increases the likelihood of further damage,” he said.

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