Drones disrupt efforts to fight California wildfire

As a wildfire rages, some people send up drones, presumably to shoot video. However, this means helicopters carrying water cannot fly.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Part of a tweet from the San Bernadino Fire Department. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

A wildfire engulfed part of an Los Angeles area freeway on Friday.

Along Interstate 15 and surrounding areas, 64 vehicles burned to relative nothingness. Ten more were damaged. Homes were affected, and the fire spread across 3,500 acres in total.

Some people, though, were interested in something besides extinguishing the fire: They chose to send up drones with the presumed intention of filming the action.

In case you think this sounds harmless, local authorities were forced to issue an appeal, pleading with the drone operators to stay away because a drone "halted tanker operations for about 25 minutes on Friday afternoon."

The authorities explained: "When a hobby drone is flown into a fire area, incident commanders have no choice but to suspend air operations and ground aircraft until the drone is removed from the area."

The San Bernardino Fire Department turned to Twitter to explain -- as if it needed explaining -- the danger of the drones.

CNN reported that five drones in total were spotted over the affected area.

I have contacted the San Bernardino Police Department to ask whether any action might be taken against the drones operators. I will update should I hear.

A San Bernardino Fire Department spokesman told CNN: "Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities to report, but the 15 to 20 minutes that those helicopters were grounded meant that 15 to 20 minutes were lost that could have led to another water drop cycle, and that would have created a much safer environment and we would not have seen as many citizens running for their lives."

This isn't the first time drones have caused a problem for firefighters. In June, efforts to fight a fire south of Big Bear Lake, in the San Bernardino National Forest, were hampered by a drone whose operator could not be located.

Somehow, filming a dangerous event seems more important to some people than letting emergency personnel do their work. One is reminded of an incident last week when, police say, a man reached into a crashed car with two injured teens inside and filmed them. He did not help them.

Sometimes, technology moves us to strange priorities.

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