Illegal Drones Interrupt Water-Dropping Helicopters During Critical Moment in Maria Fire

A long exposure photo shows the Maria Fire as it races across a hillside in Santa Paula on Nov. 1, 2019. (Credit: Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images)

A long exposure photo shows the Maria Fire as it races across a hillside in Santa Paula on Nov. 1, 2019. (Credit: Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images)

As flames rapidly spread along a hillside in Santa Paula early Friday morning, firefighters were faced with a perilous dilemma: ground night-flying helicopters working to contain the growing fire or risk an aerial collision with a thrill-seeking drone.

A Ventura County Fire Department helicopter pilot radioed in at 3:19 a.m. that a drone had been spotted flying above the flames, apparently trying to take a photograph or video of the scene below. Air operations were immediately stopped for at least 45 minutes until the sky was clear.

But at 4:05 a.m., another drone sighting occurred.

The aerial fight against the wildfire was upended for another hour while at least two helicopters with night-flying capabilities that had been deployed to help contain the Maria fire were grounded. Meanwhile, the blaze that broke out atop South Mountain, just south of Santa Paula, shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday marched toward the small agricultural towns of Somis and Saticoy.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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