Not rocket scientists

This satellite image shows a fire west of Lake Tahoe last year.

This satellite image shows a fire west of Lake Tahoe last year.

Across the West, drones are getting in the way of firefighters.

“We understand the interest of [drone operators] in obtaining video and other data by flying near wildfires,” Carson City spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management Shane McDonald said in a prepared statement. “It would be an awful tragedy if a [drone] were to cause an accident that resulted in serious injuries or deaths of firefighters.”

Federal airspace restrictions are normally put in place over wildfires, barring non-fire suppression aircraft from the areas. But drone operators are not often plugged into the kind of notification procedures that would let them know about the restrictions.

Drones appeared during firefighting efforts in the San Bernadino Mountains in California earlier this month, causing air tankers to be grounded, firefighting efforts to be thus hampered, and the fire to spread farther than it might otherwise have done. A federal investigation has been launched of the incident and a disbelieving U.S. Rep. Paul Cook said, “Not only did it put the lives of aerial firefighters in jeopardy, but the loss of air support for fire crews allowed the wildfire to spread.” He introduced legislation giving federal officials more authority to control the problem.

Republican Cook's district runs along the Nevada state line in California from Lake Havasu City to just south of Carson City, and contains parts of six national forests and also swings west to take in part of the San Bernadino Mountains.

California state legislators in both parties have also filed bills to deal with the problem.

Last weekend, the Federal Aviation Administration said it is recording 25 incidents a month of interaction between drones and piloted aircraft.

And in Britain, the Civil Aviation Authority warned drone operators they face jail if caught imperiling other aircraft. The statement came after six serious incidents in a year when drones came within 20 feet of airliners at British airports.