Herbert signs law allowing authorities to disable drones; Saddle Fire update

New law signed by Gov. Gary Herbert July 17, 2016, allows fire and law authorities to neutralize and disable drones over wildfires, location and date of photo unknown | Photo courtesy of the Utah Governor's Office, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Legislation allowing authorities to neutralize drones over wildfires was signed into law Sunday by Gov. Gary Herbert. The measure also allows for stiffer fines for drone operators who interfere with airborne suppression efforts.

Firefighters from multiple agencies respond to the Spring Hollow Fire in the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 23, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
Firefighters from multiple agencies respond to the Spring Hollow Fire in the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, June 23, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Due to the potential safety issues drones can cause to aircraft, they are not allowed to be flown within flight-restricted areas around a wildfire. As a potential collision with a drone can cause a plane or helicopter to crash, fire officials will suspend flight operations once a drone is sighted in the area.

This can lead to aircraft not being able to drop water or retardant on fires at critical times which could help keep a fire from spreading.

These factors have done little to endear firefighters to the sighting of a drone at a wildfire.

Now, thanks to the new legislation passed during a special session of the Legislature and signed by the governor, fire officials can drop the drone from the sky if necessary.

This can be done by shooting the drone, or bringing it down through electronic means.

“Public safety has always been my top priority and this new law will allow us to more effectively fight wildfires,” Herbert said in a statement Monday. “We are not going to tolerate reckless drone interference during wildfire season. With this law, Utah has taken the necessary precautions to protect our emergency management personnel and prevent additional interference that compromises public safety.”

Under the new law, the maximum fine for operating a drone near an emergency aircraft and causing it to crash has increased to $15,000 with possible imprisonment.

Unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone | Photo courtesy of Mike Saemisch
Unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone | Photo courtesy of Mike Saemisch

On five separate occasions this summer, a drone interfered with fire suppression operations at the Saddle Fire near Pine Valley. Aircraft were grounded each time. This slowed firefighting efforts and cost millions in taxpayer dollars.

State Sen. Evan Vickers, a sponsor of the bill the governor signed, said the drone incursions have cost Utah as much as $8 million.

As of Monday evening, the Saddle Fire was measured at 2,299 acres and 84 percent contained.

Triggered by lightning June 13, the fire is located around 2 miles south of the Pine Valley community within the Dixie National Forest.

An uncontained fire line remains in Lloyd Canyon. The threat to 54 structures is continually being assessed and thus far no structures have been destroyed. No evacuations are currently in effect.

Closures remain in effect for the Forsyth Trail, Goat Springs Trail, and roads 31016, 2113, 2114, 3396, 565.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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6 Comments

  • 42214 July 19, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    I said this earlier. The fact that it takes a law to allow incident commanders the authority to take out an interfering drone is an embarrassment. I think it was Patton that said, “When in command, command”.

  • digger July 20, 2016 at 8:06 am

    Great Herby, now that the fire is contained! shouda shot the first one outta the sky on site!

  • wilbur July 20, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Gunning the drones down sounds just as dangerous as flying them near fires.

    Just where do the authorities think the bullets go? into unicorn trash cans?

  • Chris July 20, 2016 at 8:41 am

    I agree with the first two comments. Long overdue…obviously. Local authorities need to take action without state involvement. We don’t need vigilantes, we just need concerned citizens to contact our local professionals the moment they see such ignorance. Public safety has been compromised by the act/acts of idiots.

    • RealMcCoy July 20, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      I agree.
      Their first step should have been to make a law banning drones in a forest fire area.
      Their second step should have been designating it a drone-free zone.
      That stops the crime in it’s tracks.

  • .... July 20, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Yeah. acts of idiots. you got that right. that means RealLowlife and dumbob will have to fly their toys someplace else. I’m sure those two can contact the government and get directions to idiot air space. ..LOL now that’s funny stuff right there !

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