A Forest Service Pilot Speaks Out on Drone Dangers

When there is a wildfire in the San Bernardino Forest Mike Calkins is one of two supervisors who calls the shots on a successful aerial attack. But, in the last month, he's seen a half a dozen drones whiz by his plane making him very nervous.

For the first time publicly, he explains why he shut down the North Fire Aerial operation last week for 26 minutes when water drops were badly needed. He says a drone got dangerously close to a tanker and could've gotten into the aircraft's engine causing a crash.

RELATED: California Bill Lets On-the-job Firefighters Take Out Drones

Calkins describes the close call with the drone saying "My pilot picked it up out of his left glass. It flew under us, roughly about 4 or 500 feet, and what was under us was the lead plane heading toward the fire due south toward the fire. And the drone just took off right on his tail and followed him into the fire."

On Monday, two bills to protect firefighters were introduced in Sacramento. One of the authors, State Senator Ted Gaines wants firefighters to be able to shoot drones down if they need too.

Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez says, "No, they're not going to get shot out of the sky.at least not here in the jurisdiction of the City of Pasadena." He says, just like on New Year's Eve and July 4th, bullets being shot into the sky is not okay. "We can't violate a law to uphold a law," he says.

Meanwhile, CALFIRE isn't sure how to bring down the drones. In a statement to FOX 11 the state agency says "CALFIRE has no standard operating procedures for the taking down of a drone. There are many safety issues and we will work with the lawmakers as this moves forward, and (CALFIRE) has no intention of shooting bullets at them."

CALFIRE, and others, say one way to try to control these drones is simply to deal with it electronically using a WIFI-jammer and stopping it.

Phil Coombes, who uses drones in his real estate practice and has long been an enthusiast, says "If you take the control out of the radio, the minute that happens, the copter goes into a failsafe motion. So, rather than just crashing onto the ground it's programmed to go back to it's origin and land itself safely."

But, for the pilot who has seen drones whizzing by in the Lake Fire, the Sterling Fire, the Mill Fire and the North Fire, something has to be done! Says, Mike Calkins, he's not going to shoot a drone down. "I wouldn't have the opportunity to shoot it down but at this point in time, what I've gone through this summer alone I don't care what it takes as long as they get on the ground and we can get in and do our job."

A job that is all about saving life and property.

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