Search for drone operator who disrupted firefighting efforts in Oceanside

Posted at 8:44 PM, Jun 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-14 23:46:52-04

OCEANSIDE, Calif. (KGTV) -- One day after an 85-acre fire in Oceanside, firefighters are reminding the public to let them do their jobs - and not interfere. One person was arrested for starting the Tuesday fire at Camp Pendleton, but police are now looking for the person who flew their drone over the scene. A move that could have cost someone their life.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Burke Kremensky was directing air tankers and helicopters over the brush fire when he suddenly had to stop everything.

"We had to suspend all that cause we physically couldn't see it," he said. "Only the firefighters on the ground could see it cause it was so small."

What those firefighters spotted was a drone, flying about 200 feet above the ground.

"That little drone that's five pounds could actually come through the windshield of the airplane or helicopter and actually hit the pilot causing him to crash," Kremensky said. "It could actually take out the propeller or the helicopter main rotor system and end up crashing so it could literally kill one of the pilots in the firefighting aircraft."

Kremensky says all the air crews had to stop for at least an hour, which is a long time when you''re trying to put out a fast-moving brush fire. As more and more people get drones, Tuesday's problem is being seen more and more often by fire crews.

"I'm not sure why they did it yesterday," Kremensky said. "I just know that it impacted our operation and put the lives and property of the homeowners in Oceanside at risk."

Federal laws prohibit drones from interfering with crews responding to emergencies. The bottom line is, the drone hobbyists are putting lives in danger, Kremensky said.

"Don't fly it around the fires," he said. "Let the firefighters do their work and let them be safe out there."

Oceanside police say they haven't caught the person who flew the drone yesterday. Anyone caught flying a drone that endangers people or property can face steep fines or criminal charges.

In the meantime, Jose Torres, Junior is in jail accused of starting the fire.

RELATED: Arrest made in 85-acre Camp Pendleton fire