Drones delay effort to contain Southern California fire

Technology should never become the story it's trying to cover.

Feb 29, 2020, 11:17 pm*

Tech

Mike Wehner 

Mike Wehner

Unmanned aerial vehicles are already changing the way news organizations cover breaking events, but when a drone becomes the story it’s being used to cover, it’s a recipe for disaster. 

That’s just what happened on a Southern California highway yesterday, when firefighting helicopters were delayed in dousing an approaching wildfire thanks to at least a handful of drones trying to get a bird’s-eye view of the inferno. 

The helicopters were delayed at least 15 minutes, according to reports, which is precious time when fire is bearing down on a highway packed with vehicles. 

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“It can kill our firefighters in the air… They can strike one of these things and one of our aircraft could go down, killing the firefighters in the air,” John Miller of the U.S. Forest Service told reporters. “This is serious to us. It is a serious, not only life threat, not only to our firefighters in the air, but when we look at the vehicles that were overrun by fire, it was definitely a life-safety threat to the motorists on Interstate 15.” 

According to local officials, several of the aerial vehicles actually chased the firefighting helicopters as they exited the area, causing further chaos and ultimately increasing the damage done by the unchecked blaze. The results, as you can see above, were devastating. 

Photo via US Army/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Jul 18, 2015, 3:17 pm