Colorado lawmakers introduce bill to make flying drones over wildfires federal felony

WASHINGTON — Three lawmakers representing Colorado in Congress introduced legislation aimed at making it safer and easier for people to fight wildfires from the air.

Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, along with Rep. Scott Tipton, announced Wednesday that they have introduced the Securing Airspace For Emergency Responders Act.

The legislation was introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate. It would make unauthorized use of drones over wildfire areas a federal felony.

“It puts the lives of firefighting personnel at risk and enhances the threat to public safety by causing the grounding of aerial firefighting assets because the airspace over a fire isn’t secure,” Gardner said, in part, in a joint statement released Wednesday.

“When managing wildfires, the last thing firefighters should have to worry about is interference from unauthorized drones,” Bennet said.

Tipton added to the senators’ concerns, saying drones can prevent a fire from being suppressed quickly.

“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. This legislation will deter this kind of problem in the future, helping Colorado’s brave firefighters perform their jobs in a safe and efficient manner,” said Tipton.

Unauthorized drones have recently caused problems for crews fighting wildfires around the West, including Colorado. When a drone is spotted in the fire area, firefighting aircraft must be grounded.

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