Drones forced the landing of planes deployed to fight the so-called North Fire in southern California that burned cars and homes along the 15 Freeway Friday, delaying response to the frightening blaze, officials said.
All air units not only pulled back from the fire because of the drones, but all five were forced to touch back down at the airport in San Bernardino after jettisoning their loads, John Miller of the U.S. Forest Service said.
The drones can pose a hazard to the planes, so the airspace must be closed to fixed-wing aircraft if they are seen in the air.
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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. 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," said John Miller of U.S. Forest Service,
Five drones were initially spotted over the fire, which consumed five homes and more than a dozen cars as motorists frantically fled on foot through the Cajon Pass.
Two drones actually gave chase to air units, and the incident delayed response by about 15 to 20 minutes, according to Battalion Chief Marc Peebles of San Bernardino County Fire Department.
When asked if the delay contributed to the fire jumping the 15 Freeway, Peebles said “It definitely contributed to it.”
Drones appearing overhead have become a growing concern as fire crews try to battle wildfires during the busy season across Southern California.
Similar incidents occurred during the fight to contain the massive Lake Fire and others.
As of 10:30 p.m., the fire, near Phelan, had grown to 3,500 acres and was just 5 percent contained.