LOS ANGELES (KABC) — The Los Angeles County Fire Department is teaming up with the FBI to crack down on illegal drones flying too close to fires.
When wildfires break out in Southern California, firefighters move quickly, attacking destructive blazes from the air, using helicopters and other aircraft to drop water and retardant.
But too often, that battle is hampered by people illegally flying drones over fires.
“Although we haven’t had any where we’ve had an aircraft be damaged, we’ve had to change up our air operations, and that has catastrophic effect,” said LACOFD Capt. David Laub.
Firefighting aircrafts have been forced to land when drones are spotted.
“That can mean that a fire can grow larger. It can become more destructive,” said Laub.
The LACOFD, working in partnership with the FBI, is the first in the country to use a detection system that can track down drones.
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That gives them the real-time location of the drone while it’s in flight, the location of the drone operator and home location that the drone’s set to.
Once that drone operator is located, teams of FBI agents or local law enforcement are tasked to tell them to stop.
“We can charge them with a felony, but we recognize that most of those people aren’t criminals. We break out people into three categories — clueless, careless and criminal,” said FBI Special Agent James Peaco.
The so-called clueless and careless are given warnings of citations
In the hands of a skilled firefighter, drones are an asset.
“The drone that you see over here with your naked eye is looking in the second story window, through that window we see a confined fire right in the center of the room,” said Capt. Mike Nardone, a drone coordinator with LACOFD. “It can be literally set up within 10 minutes in the air with the incident commander seeing exactly what’s going on”
The goal of the detection system is to keep air operations and firefighters safe.
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