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Personal drones getting in way of Arizona firefighters

(Pixabay Photo)

PHOENIX — Arizona officials are begging drone owners to keep their flying cameras away from wildfire scenes, as the devices are getting in firefighters’ way.

“We all should be incredibly concerned, because the impact that these drones are having on fire operations is putting a delay in some of the responses,” Brad Pitassi, deputy chief of the City of Maricopa Fire Department, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce & Pamela on Monday.

“And some of those ramifications can be not only deadly, but it can cause tremendous impacts on the community that our firefighters are out there on the ground trying to protect and save.”

In a tweet Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey said five firefighting aviation operations have been grounded because of drones.

“Flying drones over or near wildfires is irresponsible, dangerous and illegal. DON’T DO IT,” the tweet said.

“It prevents first responders from putting out fires and puts people and pets in danger.”

Pitassi said it’s not very difficult to identify the owner of a drone.

“Some of the staff have actually followed that drone to the operator, and had law enforcement involved,” he said.

“As more sophisticated these drones become, and as more brazen these drone operators are when they’re flying over our fires, everything is just ramping up a little bit.”

Pitassi said the instances of drones distracting firefighters and first responders in other incidents like car crashes are becoming more frequent.

“It’s just a tragedy waiting to happen,” he said.

On the flip side, drones operated by fire departments themselves have proven useful in fighting wildfires.

One of the devices was used against the Maroon Fire in the Coconino National Forest earlier this month, helping to contain part of the 7,000-acre blaze started by a lightning strike.

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Bruce St. James & Pamela Hughes

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