Drone Operators “Risking Lives”: Legislators Push for New Law in Firefights

The bill would protect emergency responders who damage drones during rescue operations.

Lawmakers are seeking to pass bills that would allow firefighters to destroy drones during rescue efforts, after several incidents have caused problems in Southern California brush fires.

On Friday, drones forced the landing of planes deployed to fight the North Fire in Southern California that burned cars and homes along the 15 Freeway in the Cajon Pass.

"If our helicopter made contact with that drone, it can cause an accident, it can kill a firefighter or two, it could injure people on the ground," said Randall Wright of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

California state Senate Bill 168 announced Monday by state Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, and Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, would protect emergency responders who damage drones during rescue operations.

"Drone operators are risking lives when they fly over an emergency situation," Gatto said. "Just because you have access to an expensive toy that can fly in a dangerous area doesn't mean you should do it."

The bill's authors say using "jamming" technology could keep drones away from emergency response areas and flight paths, adding that the "least-damaging methods" to avoid and disable drones will be used.

The proposed bill joins the previously introduced SB 167, which pushes for fine larger than $1,000, and possible jail time, for drone users who interfere with firefighters.

"People can replace drones, but we can't replace a life," Gaines said. "When our rescuers are risking their own lives to protect us, I want them thinking about safety, not liability."

NBC4's Conan Nolan contributed to this report.

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