In CA, Flying Drones Near Fires Could Cost You $5,000-$25,000

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In CA, Flying Drones Near Fires Could Cost You $5,000-$25,000

FAA: If you fly, we can't (Brochure)

If You Fly, We Can’t

Thanks to a number of recent drone incidents in California, specifically the Lake Fire in the San Bernardino Mountains area, new legislation is being considered. If passed, this legislation would make it a crime in California to fly remote-controlled aircraft over wildfires and establish a minimum fine of $5,000 and a maximum of $25,000 combined with jail time. While I’m normally against drone legislation, largely because most will have a negative effect on the drone industry. In this case, I’m a staunch supporter.

Alarmed by a flurry of drone sightings around firefighting planes, including two in Inland Southern California, two lawmakers said Thursday they intend to make it a crime to fly unmanned aircraft over a wildfire and establish stiff penalties for violators.

“It’s probably neat for people who have drones to observe a local fire this way,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, in a telephone interview. “But we just can’t let people interefere with aircraft.”

Gatto is joined by state Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, on the initiative that comes two weeks after a drone passed 500 feet below one firefighting airplane and 500 feet above another battling the 31,000-acre Lake fire in the San Bernardino National Forest. The disturbing sighting grounded a fleet of 20 aircraft several hours and forced pilots to dump retardant.

DRONES: Keep away from wildfires, lawmakers say

I’ve written two stories on the Lake Fire, about the event and about the follow-up that the FAA is currently doing because I believe it’s important for people to understand a few things.

Never fly your drone near firefighting airplanes

Never fly your drone near firefighting airplanes. Why? You will literally ground the airplanes. When you fly close to an airplane, not only are you already breaking a number of drone related regulations, such as “Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible” and “Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times, and use an observer to assist if needed.” You are also putting the lives of our first responders in danger. While you might not think it at first, a drone/airplane collision would be catastrophic.

I wish I could say that the Lake Fire drone incident was a single event, but the very next day, another firefighting airplane vs. drone run-in occurred. Like last time, the airplane and drone met in the San Bernardino area.

Learn the local drone laws and regulations you fly in

When you fly in a new area, it’s important to check your local drone laws, regulations and restrictions. These can vary.

Learn home to fly your drone

Learn to fly your drone properly, from experts. It will teach you to respect your rotorcraft. With so many RTF (Ready-to-Fly) drones available, remember unless specified, drones are not toys.

If you are unclear on any of the drone (UAV or UAS) rules that are currently binding in the United States, below comes from the FAA’s Know Before you Fly campaign.

  • Follow community-based safety guidelines, as developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
  • Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible.
  • Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times, and use an observer to assist if needed.
  • Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
  • Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
  • Contact the airport or control tower before flying within five miles of an airport.
  • Do not fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.
  • Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the sUAS.
  • Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
  • Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
  • Do not conduct surveillance or photograph persons in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the individual’s permission (see AMA’s privacy policy).

For more safety information, please download the Know Before You Fly brochure here.

Recreational Users

By |2017-08-31T15:24:48-07:00July 10th, 2015|Drones, FAA, Fire Department, Opinion, Safety|Comments Off on In CA, Flying Drones Near Fires Could Cost You $5,000-$25,000

About the Author:

Sam Estrin
I'm an avid drone enthusiast and part-time drone blogger living outside of the DC area. I track drone news and write editorials and timely drone news stories that I find interesting. If you like my stories, you can follow me on Twitter or visit me at LinkedIn. If you'd like me to write for your drone oriented publication or blog, you can contact me at