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CBS12 Chico

New apps to help firefighters keep drones out of fire zones

New apps to help firefighters keep drones out of fire zones

The federal government has a new plan to keep civilian drones from interfering with firefighting aircraft.

This new, high-tech, geo-fencing alert system lets drone operators know that they're coming close to a restricted air zone...but local firefighters aren't convinced that these problematic drones are flying above wildfires by accident.

"We have a serious problem. We’ve had several incidents this year mostly recently on the trailhead fire. We had to ground aircraft at critical times. We had to ground two aircraft at the heat of the day when we needed it the most"

So far this year drones have interfered with firefighting operations 15 times in the U.S and it's becoming a growing problem in the north state.

"We’re starting to see them pretty regularly, which is unfortunate"

Private drones can get sucked into propellers or turbines.

"The definitely are a threat to our aircraft and to the safety of our firefighters both in the air and on the ground...when they fly, we can't fly and we have to ground our aircraft"

And they can't get back to work until the drone is cleared from the airspace.

That puts the guys and girls on the ground in a little more jeopardy because they don't have the air support until that air space is cleared"

Firefighters have been relying on apps like B-4-U-FLY that tell drone operators about temporary flight restrictions but it takes hours to get these restrictions into effect.

"That takes a little bit of time to do. People need to understand that whenever there is a fire they need to keep drones away from that area"

So the U.S. Department of Interior has partnered with drone manufacturer DJI to create a geo-fencing system around fires and send alerts in real-time through drone apps like Airmap" and Skyward.

The new system assumes that drone interference happens by accident but many suspect that's not always the case.

Fire chiefs say no video or social media post is worth risking lives

“There's really no reason for them to be doing it, it's really just malicious"

"They're trying to post something on Facebook, make themselves known and they're putting people's lives in jeopardy."

While this geo-fencing alert system is still in its early stages, Cal Fire is urging anyone who sees or knows of someone who may be flying a drone near a fire to call 9-1-1.


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