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Congressman Paul Cook introduces Airspace Protection Act of 2017
Drones may be all the rage these days but if Congressman Paul Cook’s (R-8th District-Apple Valley) recently introduced Airspace Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1138) is approved and made law it would become a felony offense to operate a drone that interferes with wildfire suppression on federal land. Under the provisions of the measure, anyone convicted of this offense would be subject to five years in federal prison.
Whether due to climate change, the lingering effects of California’s five-plus year drought, carelessness of campers and hikers or possibly an increase in arson-set fires, San Bernardino County has seen a number of devastating fires in the past few years. Last year’s Blue Cut Fire, in the Cajon Pass, scorched 37,000 acres, and destroyed 105 homes and 213 structures. The year prior, the Lake Fire burned 31,000 acres and took over a month to extinguish. To make matters worse, this year’s fire season is already outpacing 2016.
According to Cal Fire statistics, through the first six months of last year there were 22,709 wildfires, totaling 30,574 acres. However, this year, during the same period 2,905 wildfires were reported over an area of 68,129 acres. In light of the triple-digit temperatures, unforgiving terrain, and strained resources Cal Fire and other firefighting agencies and personnel know it’s no easy task to battle these fires.
Recent, unauthorized remote-controlled drones in wildfire airspace have complicated firefighting efforts. These devices have caused major disruptions to aerial firefighting capabilities. During the 2015 North Fire, all firefighting aircraft were grounded over fears of drone collisions. The inability to utilize aerial firefighting resources resulted in the fire jumping Interstate 15 and destroying over 20 vehicles in the Cajon Pass.
The same situation has played out in fires in Arizona, Colorado, and Utah due to drone activity. Rep. Cook has stated that “…it’s become readily apparent that we must take action to protect lives, homes and our environment, by restricting drone usage.”
More information will be forthcoming on the status of Rep. Cook’s Airspace Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1138) as it wends its way through both houses of Congress. In the interim Rep. Cook recommends that you take steps to increase your chances of surviving a major wildfire by:
- Creating a defensible space around your home. California law requires homeowners who reside in a State Responsibility Area to create a 100-foot buffer zone around inhabited structures that is free of flammable debris.
- Have emergency supplies and an action plan prepared in the event of an evacuation.
- Consider utilizing Cal Fire’s recently launched application for smartphones called “Ready for Wildfire” that provides users with critical wildfire alerts. It can be downloaded free of charge from the Apple and Google Play stores.
- Visit the Cal Fire website, http://www.readyforwildfire.org to learn more about wildfire safety.
Most importantly heed the warnings of firefighting personnel and cease the use of drone over any fire. See to it that your children and teens also observe these restrictions to avoid legal consequences.