Forestry Firefighters Warn Drone Operators

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REDDING --

U.S. Forest Service firefighters are emphasizing an awareness campaign for drone operators who are flying their machines in wildland fire zones.

"Absolutely it's a hazard, it's a lethal hazard," said smokejumper transport Pilot John Blumm.

Blumm said he has no way of contacting drone pilots who wander into airspace and he often has limited visibility. Collisions are a big concern for smokejumpers too, who have the tough task of trying to land on small targets.

"We're not interested in having to deal with that, we got enough on our minds," said smokejumper Josh Mathiesen.

During the Lake Fire in San Bernardino County, the Forest Service says they called back four aerial tankers when a drone was spotted. Two of them had to jettison their fire retardent cargo.

"Once we shut that down, the fire did get larger, and in addition to that the added threats could have been more homes lost," said Aviation U.S. Forest Service Safety Officer Yolanda Saldana.

State firefighters had similar problems in a fire in Central California.

"You just don't know where they're going to go, they just show up out of nowhere," said Cal Fire Region Chief Keith Larkin.

Firefighters say their education program is not anti-drone, it's anti-accident. The campaign's motto is "If you fly, we can't."

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