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Drone forces firefighting planes, helicopters out of the air near Deer Creek Reservoir in Utah


SALT LAKE CITY — A drone flying over a Utah wildfire burning near Deer Creek Reservoir grounded firefighting planes as the blaze spread to 740 acres, forestry officials said Wednesday.

The small unmanned craft grounded all the aircraft fighting the fire from the air for an hour Tuesday evening and forced a plane to dump a load of fire retardant, said Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands spokesman Jason Curry.

The drone disappeared from the area about 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City in Wasatch County, and authorities were investigating Wednesday who was flying it. Helicopters and planes fighting the blaze were able to return to the skies on Wednesday.

The fire is believed to have been started by a person Monday afternoon. It was about 5 percent contained Wednesday morning.

Drones are dangerous because they can hit a helicopter or plane and cause a crash, Curry said.

"It shouldn't have to take someone getting killed in order for the public to take this seriously," he said.

Police are investigating the drone and asking anyone with information to call law enforcement Wasatch County.

State fire officials began warning the public this summer that it's against the law to fly a drone over a wildfire.

The U.S. Forest Service has counted more than a dozen wildfires in which suspected drones interfered with firefighting aircraft this year, up from four fires last year and a handful of incidents in previous years.

In Utah, fire officials spotted drones flying over wildfires several times in 2014 and 2013.

Curry said anyone flying a drone over a wildfire can face state charges, including a $2,500 fine and up to six months in jail, in addition to possible federal charges and sanctions from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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