Drones Impede Helicopters Fighting Fires

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Of all the elements they must battle in a wildfire, firefighters face a new foe: drones operated by enthusiasts who presumably take close-up video of the disaster.

Five such "unmanned aircraft systems" prevented California firefighters from dispatching helicopters with water buckets for up to 20 minutes over a wildfire that roared Friday onto a Los Angeles area freeway that leads to Las Vegas.

Helicopters couldn’t drop water because five drones hovered over the blaze, creating hazards in smoky winds for a deadly midair disaster, officials said.

The North Fire torched 20 vehicles on Interstate 15 and incited panic among motorists who fled on foot on the freeway Friday. The wildfire continued to burn uncontrollably Saturday, scorching 3,500 acres with only 5% containment in San Bernardino County, officials said.

Drones hovering over wildfires is a new trend in California, and on Saturday, fire officials condemned the operators of "hobby drones," as officials labeled them. It was unclear Saturday whether authorities would launch an investigation into the five drones.

"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," said spokesman Eric Sherwin of the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

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