Cal Fire Air Tankers Grounded Due to Drone

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SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY --

Cal Fire says a hobby drone flew into the path of an air tanker fighting the 17,000 acre Lake Fire in San Bernardino County on Wednesday, causing them to ground all of their air operations for the evening.

"Drones and wildfires do not mix. The bottom line is, if you fly, we can't," Cal Fire Spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

The FAA occasionally grants Cal Fire temporary flight restrictions, or TFRs, where wildfires are burning, making it illegal for drone hobbyists to fly in that airspace.

Berlant said a TFR was in place at the Lake Fire when this particular drone was flying Wednesday.

"That private hobby drone was breaking the TFR. And there are some serious consequences with the FAA when a TFR is broken ... We were never able to find the operator, and, in fact, several hours went by and sunset occurred, and we weren't able to fly aircraft for the rest of the evening. So it hampered our ability to battle a very fast moving wildfire," Berlant said.

"It's making us look bad," Jeff Hall said.

Hall is a professional photographer based in Sacramento.  He told FOX40 he flew a drone near last summer's Sand Fire, which burned 4,240 acres and 20 homes in Amador and El Dorado counties.

"It was coming right toward us, so I got a pretty good perspective of where it was headed. There are the rules of FAA you know, not to go past 400 feet and to keep visible sight of it," Hall said.

Hall said he followed FAA rules at that fire, as well as waiting until sunset when nearby helicopters were grounded until he shot the drone video.

He said other people may not take safety into consideration when flying drones near wildfires.

In fact, he said he has seen people fly drones 50 feet over flames.

"You know, you shouldn't be able to pick this thing up and fly it the next day, not having any experience. I really try to fly responsibly. I know the rules. I know my limits," Hall said.

During California's fourth consecutive drought year, when Cal Fire has already battled 2,500 wildfires statewide, the want to remind people not to put anything in their path.

"When we have drones in the path of a fire, we've gotta bring those aircraft down, that prohibits us from doing our job and putting out the fire," Berlant said.

"And that's the part people aren't thinking about is, by me flying over the fire, me grounding all the aircraft you're affecting families ... You could be costing another home to be burnt or another family to be evacuated, so it's serious," Hall said.