A group of Colorado legislators introduced a bill to Congress that increases the penalty for using drones over wildfires.
Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, introduced The Securing Airspace For Emergency Responders Act on Wednesday as state wildfires continue to grow.
The SAFER Act comes around the same time San Juan National Forest reported issues with drone flights during the 416 Fire. Earlier this month, Anne Janik of the U.S. Forest Service confirmed with KSJD that county sheriffs have shot down drones that interfered with firefighting efforts.
Tipton stressed the necessity of keeping firefighting aircraft safe in a press release. In addition to drones hindering efforts to put out the fires, he added, “firefighters on the ground are also left without the air support they may need to create an exit route in the event of an emergency."
Federal law currently prohibits interfering with firefighting, in addition to regulations of drone use in national forests. If this legislation passes, those caught flying drones over wildfires – regardless of the presence of firefighting aircraft – would be charged with a felony.
The state of Colorado passed a law earlier this year that would charge drone users with a misdemeanor if they disrupt police, firefighter, rescue or emergency medical services. The law goes in effect in August, and convicted operators would face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.