H.R.3025, the Wildfire Airspace Protection Act of 2015, would exempt firefighters and other first responders who use drones for aerial firefighting.
Anyone convicted under the act would face a fine and imprisonment for up to five years.
According to Cook, a hobbyist drone recently flew into airspace over the Lake Fire blaze in the San Bernardino, Calif., mountains while first responders were trying to extinguish the massive wildfire. This forced the immediate grounding of all firefighting aircraft because of the threat the drone posed to low-flying planes. This prevented firefighters from keeping control of the expanding wildfire for an afternoon and led to the burning of thousands of additional acres, says Cook.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard that aerial firefighting was brought to a grinding halt because a reckless individual decided to fly a drone over the Lake Fire,” he says. “Not only did it put the lives of aerial firefighters in jeopardy, but the loss of air support for fire crews allowed the wildfire to spread. Interfering with our firefighters is a serious problem, and this legislation will ensure that those who endanger our firefighters in the future will face a serious penalty.”
The National Interagency Fire Center recently released a notice that members of the public should not fly drones over or near wildfires even if a temporary flight restriction is not in place.