Drones ‘Put People’s Lives At Risk’ In Wildfire Fights

By Dillon Thomas

LA PLATA COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Drones flying above wildfires in Colorado forced many aerial support teams to land, on several occasions, during fire response.

A spokesperson with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office told CBS4 they received four reports of drones flying over their response to the Lightner Creek Fire. As a result of at least three of the drones, aircrafts were grounded.

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Some said this could be a sign of a problem on the rise, as the numbers surpassed that of last year.

Chris Barth with Rocky Mountain Team Black said 41 drones caused incursions during wildfire battles in 2016. Only one of which was in Colorado.

“[Flying a drone above firefighters] can be fatal. Firefighters, and pilots, can die,” Barth said.

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Chris Barth with CBS4’s Dillon Thomas (credit: CBS)

Aircrafts, carrying vital retardant, were grounded for an hour each time.

“Aerial resources are something we rely on every day, in the wild land arena,” said Jay Jackson, South Metro Fire’s Wildland Chief.

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(credit: CBS)

Jackson said, if drones cause planes to ground, it could severely impact the success of a fire battle on the ground.

“It impacts wildland firefighting dramatically. It is like taking a portion of our primary resources out of the picture,” Jackson said.

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Jay Jackson (credit: CBS)

Incident management crews in La Plata County said drones could also put pilot lives in jeopardy.

“[Drones] are flying in the same air space. They are very small, and difficult to see,” Barth said.

RELATED: Additional Teams Arrive To Battle Mill Creek Fire

In some cases, drone pilots could be cited for “interfering with firefighting efforts over federal land.”

However, the chance of receiving a citation was not the biggest message some had for drone pilots.

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Lightner Creek Fire (credit: La Plata County)

Those on the front lines said drone pilots must realize, if they are flying, first responders cant.

“It is not safe, it is not smart, and it can put people’s lives at risk,” Barth said.

Wildfire Resources

– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Living With Wildfire section.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

– See images from the most destructive wildfires (Black Forest, Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.

Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.

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