the incursion of as many as five hobbyist drones in and near the Cajon pass fire this week in Southern California continues to highlight the potential catastrophic damage unauthorized and unregulated flights of camera carrying hobbyist drones can cause. Aerial suppression of wildfires has been temporarily suspended here in Southern California on three active fires so far this summer. the most recent incident involved up to five separate drones believed by incident commanders to be carrying cameras, capturing images of .water dropping helicopters and fixed-wing attack aircraft dropping fire retardant on the Cajon Pass conflagration. With traffic on I-15 freeway stopped, the blaze arched over the freeway, and set several cars and trucks on fire.
All aerial firefighting was suspended for about one-half hour when a quadcopter drone was piloted into the area where helicopters and fixed wing fire retardant bombers were operating The suspension of aerial attack fire fighting lead to the loss of several cars and one big rig truck and trailer combination, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Department. With drones in the active flight path, at least one helo dropped the contents of its water bucket on a burning car and a twin engined water bomber
dropped its retardant load on the fire front near the cars trapped by the fire.
Shortly thereafter the fire’s air attack supervisor ordered that the helos and bombers return to a nearby base, which resulted in a 20 to 30 minute suspension of aerial firefighting flights As the helos departed for bases in nearby San Bernardino, two of the dones were photographed following the aircraft. Flying to close to a helo with a tail rotor in turbulent air can be risky. if a collision between the drone and helo occurs and damages the tail rotor, the helicopter spins out of control and crashes. the continued appearance of unregulated hobbyist drones over any event that also involves emergency aircraft support points to the need to bring order to this unregulated and dangerous activity. There are a couple of potential solutions: Equip all drones with emergency transponders that broadcasts ownership and physical location on electronic interrogation or continuously; Or,require drone enthusiasts to register and display unique identification numbers on their aircraft. the potential for a catastrophic mid air collision between aerial firefighting assets and hobbyist drones trying to get newsworthy footage of wildfire suppression is a genuine risk. that risk will increase as Southern California faces its most explosive fire season in recent history.--Jim Forbes on July 20, 2015. mandatory disclosure: I live in an area that has been threatened by three wildfires in the last 12 years. mu\y home sits directly in the path between the site of previous wildfires and the Palomar Air Attack base in Ramona, CA.