'No Drone Zone' campaign launches in Santa Clara County

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In Santa Clara County, officials have launched a new "No Drone Zone" public safety campaign aimed at owners of unmanned aircraft such as drones. The main goal? To prevent operators from interfering with emergency response efforts.

"If you love your drone, don't fly it anywhere that's restricted," said Santa Clara County supervisor Cindy Chavez. "If you use a drone in any of these areas that are restricted, you're going to lose your drone."

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Those restricted areas now include wildfires after the board of supervisors approved a new ordinance this summer prohibiting the operation of a drone in a manner that interferes with firefighting, emergency services, and law enforcement operations.

"We need to protect our public safety workers and we need to protect the public from the ravages of fire," said Cal Fire Division Chief Jim Crawford.

Last October, private drones flying near the Bear Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains forced Cal Fire to suspend its aerial firefighting efforts. In July of last year, a drone was confiscated during the Eden Fire in Saratoga after an agency helicopter had to be grounded to avoid a collision. The owner was subsequently prosecuted.

"We had to abort that helicopter's water drops, which was coordinated with the firefighters on the ground," said Asst. Chief John Justice of the Santa Clara County Fire Department. "That helicopter had two or three more drops to do to put a cooling effect."

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Flying drones near county jails or juvenile facilities is also illegal. Sheriff Laurie Smith says a drone carrying meth crashed inside the jail perimeter at Elmwood last fall.

"Contraband is one thing. We're more fearful of weapons being dropped into a secure facility where we have maximum security inmates," said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.

Those who violate the ordinance could be subject to civil and administrative fines and penalties. Campaign materials have been produced in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

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