Poway mayor pushes to ban drones near fires - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Poway mayor pushes to ban drones near fires

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POWAY (CBS 8) - On Tuesday, the mayor of Poway pushed to ban drones near fire scenes and other emergencies in an effort to crack down on drone operators who get in the way of first responders. 

The mayor said he wants an urgent no drone zone around fires because he fears what will happen when wildfires spark in Southern California, and drones slow the firefighting efforts. 

Critics said it's a knee jerk reaction and he should let the state handle it. 

As dozens of wildfires rage across California have burned homes, businesses, trapped cars on the Cajon Pass, firefighters have seen their firefighting efforts delayed by at least a dozen drones. 

"The last thing we want is a drove flying over their head because someone is getting their kicks about video they hope will go viral," said Poway Mayor Steve Vaus.

The new ordinance presented by Poway's mayor would put a two mile restriction on unmanned aircraft near fires or public emergencies. Those operating the unmanned aircraft would face a $1,000 fine. 

Mearon Okonsky owns Hummingbird Systems, a local company that uses drones for site scans and sells drones. 

He supports restricting unmanned aircraft around wildfires, but he spoke with the Poway mayor about his concerns. 

"It [the legislation] can be abused. I just don't want them to abuse the legislation. Am I going to get a $1,000 fine because I was flying and taking pictures of my house a mile away," said Okonsky.

According to Poway's mayor, the "primary focus is wildfires, anything that would prevent our first responders from doing their job in keeping this community safe." 

At the state capitol, a proposed law would increase the misdemeanor fine to $5,000 and six months in jail to anyone caught flying a lobby drone above the FAA regulated 400-feet during a temporary flight restriction during wildfires. 

"I don't want to get to Santa Ana season with winds whipping fire flames and look back on this night and think I wish we would have done something," said Mayor Vaus. 

The Poway City Attorney will draft an ordinance and bring it back to the City Council on September 1st, for more discussion and possibly a vote. 

While the FAA has sovereign authority over drones, local governments can regulate them. 

On Tuesday, first-responders were in Sacramento discussing the need for drones in emergency situations. 

The FAA will address new regulations in 2016. 

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