Drones ground firefighting planes during Lake Fire - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Drones ground firefighting planes during Lake Fire

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - On Thursday, Cal-Fire made it clear that drones are putting lives at risk. 

Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says a tanker was preparing to drop retardant Wednesday evening in the San Bernardino Mountains when the pilot spotted the small remote-controlled device.

The Cal-Fire Captain at the Ramona Air Base said he just came back from the Corrine Fire in Yosemite National Park where he couldn't launch crews until drones were out of the zone.

Drones have forced air support to be grounded in the Lake Fire, putting families and crews in danger.

Fire crews on the ground and air have been dousing flames roaring from the Lake Fire in the San Bernardino Mountains, but now drones have become a new hazard to the fire fighting efforts.

"If you fly, then, we can't," said Tim Stepanovich, Air Tactical Group Supervisor Air Space Coordinator.

On Wednesday night with only two hours of light before dark, two unidentified recreational drones spotted 11,000 feet in the air, slowed down the firefighting efforts.

The unmanned aircraft grounded planes for nearly three hours, including a DC-10 carrying 11,000 gallons of retardant.

"It's breaking the law with airspace and model craft are regulated to only fly 400 feet above ground. The amount of work we can do in three hours for the good of the fire is astronomical," said Stepanovich.

According to Stepanovich, helicopters can still fly, but fixed wing planes can't maneuver as well around drones.

"If a drone goes through a windshield it could have catastrophic failure or you could have major component failure and that could be loss of life in mid-air or for the firefighters on the ground," said Stepanovich. 

The FAA said hobbyist are authorized to fly drones for recreational purposes, but they cannot pose a danger to emergency crews. The drone flying over the Lake Fire was flying in a temporary flight restricted area and above the regulated 400 feet.

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