San Bernadino County officials are offering a total of $75,000 for information leading to the capture of drone pilots who obstructed firefighters as they worked to extinguish forest fires in three separate incidents. The unmanned crafts forced responders to ground the small air tankers that play a critical role in putting out fires; authorities say the delays directly resulted in more damage and destroyed property.
In the latest incident, which took place earlier this month, five recreational hobby drones were encountered flying over the wildfire. Firefighter’s planes and helicopters were forced to circle the area and land for 20 minutes before the drones moved on. The delay allowed the fire to reach the Interstate 15 freeway where it set over 20 cars ablaze.
"In the most recent fire, the North Fire, we saw cars and trucks burning on the freeway, we saw homes burn, and we saw families running for their lives," Jorge Ramos, chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “We want to know who was flying drones, and we want them punished. Someone knows who they are, and there is $75,000 waiting for them."
California officials say they will set up a phone hotline for people to call with information about the drone pilots. A $25,000 reward is on offer for information on three separate July incidents; drones were seen flying above the Lake Fire, Mill 2 Fire and the North Fire.
Both county and state lawmakers are actively pursuing new legislation targeted at people who obstruct wildfire. San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos warned that drone operators could be prosecuted for murder if the drones caused delays that led to deaths of any firefighters or civilians.