California Puts Bounty on Drone Pilots Near Wildfires

A $75,000 reward could be enough to stop the people endangering firefighters.

David McNew via Getty Images

Fires are a huge issue for California. Every summer, the dry heat makes the state’s vast amount of forest vulnerable to wildfire. It’s, of course, important that firefighters can combat the flames and limit damage as much as possible. So when drones hover near a fire, firefighters get justifiably pissed.

Several times now, firefighters have been forced to delay their efforts because drones got in the way. First, in June, a forest fire burned through more than 31,000 acres of wildlands in the San Bernardino National Forest and San Gorgonio Wilderness. When a drone was spotted, they had to land aircraft meant to help extinguish the flames. The pilots took precaution because a drone-aircraft collision could cause further damage and potential loss of life.

Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, San Bernardino County supervisors are offering a $75,000 reward to track down the drone operators who interrupted firefighting efforts in 2015’s three major California wildfires. In addition, new proposed legislation could make it legal to take down any drones near a fire — no questions asked — and, if the operator is identified, levy a five-year prison sentence.

It’s unclear why the drones were near fires, but there seems to be no reason the pesty devices should fly so close to dangerous sites. California’s efforts could be a step toward better regulating recreational drone use. It doesn’t take much to be able to purchase a consumer drone, and the damage created can far exceed the item’s cost. With proper monitoring, such as device registration or clearly marked no-fly zones, such incidents could be avoided. For now, California’s punitive actions will hopefully discourage miscreant drone pilots.