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Drone users are threatening life-saving fire operations in Australia

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Authorities in South Australia who are battling bushfires have warned that anyone using drones in the area will pose a threat to their ability to fight life-threatening fires.

South Australia’s Country Fire Service announced today that fire-fighting aircraft would be grounded if drones were detected in the area.

Drones pose a danger to the aircraft, which often have to fly low for firebombing and to back up firefighters on the ground.

As a result, there is a 9.2 kilometre exclusion zone around the fire-fighting area. Breaching the exclusion zone, or otherwise interfering with aerial firefighting, is illegal and can carry a fine of up to $9,000.

David Pearce, CFS Manager State Aviation Operations, said that in the right circumstance, even a small drone could bring down a helicopter or aeroplane, so fire crews would not take that risk.

“Flying a drone means you not only put the aircrew’s lives in danger, but also the lives of the firefighters, and the people and property they’re trying to protect,” Pearce said.

The announcement comes as firefighters in the United States have condemned drone operators for flying near bushfires.

Five drones turned up at a bushfire in California in July, preventing helicopters from being deployed as people abandoned their cars on the interstate to escape the flames.

“15 to 20 minutes were lost that could have led to another water drop cycle, and that would have created a much safer environment and we would not have seen as many citizens running for their lives,” Eric Sherwin of the San Bernadino fire department told CNN.

More information on the rules around flying drones can be found at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

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