New York Daily News
Drone “intrusions” over the Maria Fire in southern California forced firefighters to ground their air assaults on the raging blaze twice early Friday, officials said.
The two separate incidents, possibly from the same drone, lasted 45 minutes each and made it too dangerous to fly water-dropping helicopters using night vision, Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Scott Dettorre told the Daily News.
“That’s an hour and a half our ground crews didn’t have air support. When you’re on the front line fighting flames, that’s a very long time,” he said.
The first incident started before 2 a.m. local time, according to a local videographer who captured harrowing footage of a firefighting helicopter waiting helplessly on the ground as flames raged nearby.
“At Santa Paula airport flames moving closer and winds blowing. That noise from chopper is it idling on tarmac due to some jackass flying a drone and grounding aircraft,” Michel Brewer said in a Twitter post at 1:51 a.m. local time that included the video.
The second drone delay was around 4 a.m., Dettorre told The News.
He said the department had no choice but to halt its air efforts amid sightings of the drone or drones likely trying to take private images of the massive blaze.
“To call it perilous for our pilots is an understatement,” Dettorre said. “If a drone got sucked into an engine or collided, it could drop the helicopter or airplane,” he said.
The spokesman said the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department is now investigating the incidents and criminal charges were possible.
“That’s enraging,” Laura Lambert said, reacting to news of the drone delays after her parents were evacuated from her childhood home in Somis, Calif.
The wind-driven Maria Fire erupted at 6:14 p.m. Thursday in the South Mountain area of neighboring Santa Paula and charred 8,730 acres by 7 a.m. with zero containment, officials said.
It destroyed two structures and threatened 1,800 more amid mandatory evacuations of 7,500 residents.
“The end is not yet in sight,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said Friday afternoon. “The winds are starting to change, and that presents its own challenges all by itself.”
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