Just when drones were going legit as a tool of public safety, a rubbernecker reminds folks why the jury is still out on which side of the public safety debate the tiny aircraft hover.

Last weekend regular-sized helicopters battling a 800-acre Big Red Park wildfire in northern Routt County were grounded because of an unidentified drone in the area, the Steamboat Today reported.

“Drones in and over fires are unsafe and pose a significant risk to our pilots, crews and operations,” incident commander Tom Roerick told Steamboat Today reporter Matt Stensland.

The choppers were providing aerial support to ground crews. They doused spot fires on the perimeter of the fire, but were forced to land immediately when the drone was zipping around.

But if things progress as Rep. Jim Wilson’s House Bill 1070 prescribes, they could become an eye in the sky that doesn’t put pilots in harm’s way at all.

Colorado Politics told you in June about the study the bill authorized to look at the practical public safety uses of the mini-aircraft.

“Drones have tremendous potential to survey ground and relay data without the cost of manned aircraft and the risk of putting pilots in the sky,” Wilson, a Republican from Salida, said at the time.

Nebraska has used drones to help start back burns by dropping little fireballs.

His bill was co-sponsored in the Senate by Democrat Kerry Donovan of Vail and Don Coram of Montrose.

The results of the drone study will be presented to the Wildfire Matters Review Committee and the House and Senate judiciary committees by Sept. 1, 2018.

In the meantime, hobbyists, stay out of the way.

As Stensland wrote in Steamboat Today: “Roerick said drone owners need to be aware of flight restrictions and stay clear of the Big Red Fire area for the foreseeable future.”

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