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Drone forces brief suspension of air operations battling Bear Fire in Santa Cruz Mountains

Crucial aerial firefighting operations in the Santa Cruz Mountains stopped around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday while fire officials worked to remove a drone from the area, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office officials.

It is against the law to fly a drone in a disaster zone. The incident grounded air operations over the Bear Fire as authorities sought to identify the owner, said Sgt. Chris Clark, a sheriff’s office spokesman. By noon the situation was clear enough to resume operations. 

“There’s a lot of people trying to put this fire out,” Clark said. “This only slows that down.”

The Bear Fire, which started in a structure off Bear Creek Road and spread to the Santa Cruz Mountains, was 271 acres and 10 percent contained, according to Cal Fire estimations Wednesday morning. 

The containment number was up from 5 percent on Tuesday afternoon, as firefighters went about the task of preventing the wildfire from spreading up to about 150 homes in the Las Cumbres community, which have already been evacuated.

“The fire activity has calmed down a lot,” said Angela Bernheisel, a Cal Fire spokeswoman. “Surrounding communities outside of the evacuation area are not a threat. Those areas don’t need to be concerned about this fire.”

Last week a drone operator received a citation in Petaluma and the California Highway Patrol issued warnings over drone use in the North Bay as crews battled to contain a series of fires. 

Cal Fire released a public service announcement about drones in 2015, saying drones hindered firefighting efforts with the North Fire in Southern California. When drones are spotted in an area where aerial firefighting operations are set to take place, the decision can be made to ground planes until the drones are cleared.

In 2016, the Department of the Interior stated that a reported 42 drones were found invading airspace where firefighting was taking place.


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