As the North Fire swept towards Interstate 15 in Southern California this past weekend, firefighting aircraft rushed to slow its progress. But there were five drones hovering overhead -- so the airplanes had to wait until the drones moved on. The fire leapt the freeway and burned dozens of cars.
The U.S. Forest Service says that’s the fourth time in the last month that drones interfered. Republican state Sen. Ted Gaines is fed up.
"We don’t want people’s lives taken because of some stupid action by a hobbyist drone that may be unaware of the consequence -- or perhaps aware and just trying to get some video footage so they can put it on YouTube," Gaines says.
Gaines and Democratic Asm. Mike Gatto had already called for tougher penalties, including higher fines and the possibility of jail time. Now, they want to clear the way for more aggressive responses from firefighters, like jamming technology.
"I love it," says Mike Rivard. "I absolutely love it."
Rivard runs a commercial drone company and started a hobbyist group in Southern California. He calls people who fly drones into fire zones "idiots."
"God, we worked so hard for the last three years to change the opinion and the perception of drones," Rivard says, "And just a few guys can ruin it."
The Legislature will hear the bills when it returns from summer recess next month.