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National, state fire managers join forces to combat illegal drone use near wildfires

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Posted at 7:06 PM, Jun 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-28 21:06:10-04

SALT LAKE CITY – A team of national and state fire managers is now in Utah to address the growing use of drones near wildfires.

Shayne Ward is with the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands. He is part of a specialized team mobilized to Utah to educate people about the dangers of illegal drone use near wildfires.

Utah is on their radar this wildfire season after air resources were suspended three times while firefighters battled the Saddle Fire in Pine Valley.

“On two of those incidents, we actually had two near misses,” Ward said. “One of them, someone was flying a drone directly over a helicopter when it was landing. The other one there was an air tanker that was inbound to do a drop.”

Ward said these incidents aren’t only surfacing in Utah. Arizona and California have recently fell victim to drone users violating the law and putting firefighters’ lives at risk.

“We’re trying to develop some education and awareness campaigns so we can address this problem all over the states.”

James Bollinger is a drone pilot. He also sells drones and trains people how to use them correctly and lawfully.

He believes stricter enforcement will make offenders think twice.

“We’re all in this together and it’s unfortunate that one or two can ruin it for everybody else. Just use common sense. Just be smart,” Bollinger said.

Right now, if you’re caught flying a drone over a wildfire, you’re charged with a misdemeanor. Gov. Gary Herbert is pushing to make the punishment a felony.