Dozens of charred, abandoned cars made for a surreal landscape after a massive wildfire swept across a major Southern California freeway yesterday afternoon. Early this morning officials confirmed that five drones flying over the scene hindered firefighters’ response and caused the fire to jump the freeway.
According to an early morning report by NBC LA, five drones were seen flying over the fire, and two of the drones interfered directly with firefighting aircraft, forcing planes to jettison their fire retardant early and return to the San Bernardino Airport.
Battalion Chief Marc Peebles of San Bernardino County Fire Department said firefighting efforts were directly hampered by the drones:
Two drones actually gave chase to air units, and the incident delayed response by about 15 to 20 minutes.
When asked if the delay contributed to the fire jumping the 15 Freeway, Peebles said “It definitely contributed to it.”
On-the-scene reports showed people fleeing burning cars and running down the freeway for help as the fire grew behind them.
This is the third time in a month that drones have interfered with firefighters in Southern California. In a video from NBC LA, John Miller of U.S. Forest Service reiterated the danger of flying drones near firefighting aircraft:
“It can kill our firefighters in the air ... They can strike one of these things and one of our aircraft could go down, killing the firefighters in the air. This is serious to us. It is a serious, not only life threat, not only to our firefighters in the air, but when we look at the vehicles that were overrun by fire, it was definitely a life-safety threat to the motorists on Interstate 15.”
Although firefighters originally called the fire a “multi-casualty incident,” no deaths were reported, but several people are being treated for burns. The fire is still burning and as of early this morning had spread over 3,500 acres with only 5% contained.
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