Penalties Increased for Flying Drones over a Wildfire in Utah

Following repeated disruptions to wildfire suppression in southern Utah, lawmakers have increased penalties for flying drones over an active wildfire and authorities now have permission to disable or destroy the pesky unmanned aircraft.

Saddle Fire

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

A lightning strike on a mountainous ridge southwest of the small town of Pine Valley, Utah started a fire that has now been burning for over a month, threatening residents and destroying nearly 2,300 acres of coniferous trees in the Dixie National Forest. While the blaze was naturally occurring and not human-caused, someone has repeatedly slowed fire control efforts and put homes and lives at risk by flying hobby drones nearby.

Safety risk

Drones above Wildfire

Photo by: Tony Alter

When a drone is spotted near a wildfire, attending fire crews will ground all aircraft needed to fight the blaze. This is due to the risk of the unmanned drones colliding with a human occupied fire control aircraft and damaging a helicopter’s rotor blades or being sucked through the intake. Any collision of the two aircraft would risk the safety of the individuals flying the helicopter along with those on the ground.

Every minute counts

Photo by: Texas Military Department

Photo by: Texas Military Department

Every minute counts when fighting wildfires. When fire suppression aircraft are grounded even for a brief amount of time, wildfires can shift and grow rapidly which further hinders any chance of containment. The containment of the Saddle Fire in southern Utah has seen multiple delays due to drones flying in the restricted area. Following the first delay the fire grew and moved quickly, causing an evacuation order to be issued for the residents in Pine Valley. Following these and many other wildfire suppression delays, laws have now been changed.

Penalties for drones near wildfires

Photo by: Bureau of Land Management

Photo by: Bureau of Land Management

The drone bill HB0126 signed last Wednesday now allow authorities to jam a drone’s signal to bring it down and increase charges to: a class B misdemeanor for flying in a restricted wildfire area; a class A misdemeanor if fire crews have to ground an aircraft; a third degree felony if a drone collides with an aircraft; and a second degree felony if a drone causes a fire suppression aircraft to crash. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted the following statement following the bill signing: “Today’s special session vote sends a strong message to Utahns that we will not tolerate reckless drone interference near wildfires.”

Utah Funeral Procession Laws

Utah traffic laws apply to the majority of motorists besides law enforcement and emergency services, yet individuals in a funeral procession may also be exempt from following certain rules of the road.

What traffic light?

Photo: RL GNZLZ

Photo: RL GNZLZ

Those who are part of a funeral procession don’t have to yield at stop signs or traffic lights as other motorist do. In fact, they have the right of way on the road over all automobiles except emergency vehicles. Anyone who interferes with an active funeral procession or impedes the memorial services in any way is guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

Laws for the funeral procession

Although the traveling memorial service has the right of way, they also have guidelines they must follow to be allowed some liberties on public roadways. According to Utah Code 76-9-108, “at least one vehicle contains the body or remains of a deceased person being memorialized and the vehicles [included in the procession] are going to or from a memorial service.”

Identify the procession

Funeral Procession 2To help other motorists distinguish the funeral procession, Utah Code 76-9-108 states “the operators of the vehicles [in a funeral procession] identify themselves as being part of the procession by having the lamps or lights of the vehicle on and by keeping in close formation with the other vehicles in the procession.” Just as motorists are taught to be aware and move over when they observe flashing lights that signal the approach of law enforcement or emergency vehicles, if they additionally watch for a string of vehicles with their headlamps and hazard lights on, then they can avoid charges of impeding with a funeral procession.

Leave Medical Marijuana Home When Visiting Utah

Those planning on visiting Utah should expect to leave their medical marijuana at home to avoid criminal charges. Fortunately, there are changes upon the horizon, but as for now, marijuana in any form is still not legal to bring here.

Marijuana RX

medical marijuana

Photo by: Neeta Lind

Last week, 21 year old John Arthur Hernandez visiting from California was arrested in St. George Utah after he brought drugs including medical marijuana into the state. The marijuana was in a prescription bottle approved for Hernandez by a doctor from California, but regrettably Utah does not yet authorize the possession or use of marijuana, even with a valid prescription from another state.

Utah working on legalizing medical marijuana

For those living in or visiting Utah who are suffering from chronic pain or illnesses, legalized medical marijuana looks to be in the near future for the beehive state. Two different bills to make medical marijuana lawful recently passed the Utah State Senate and are now on their way to the Utah House of Representatives. Due to the enormous amount of opposition thus far, SB 73, the bill allowing more of the plant than just the CBD oil, had to be adjusted. That bill now restricts medical marijuana use to only those with chronic ailments such as aids and cancer. Additionally, the medical marijuana is not allowed in a cigarette form; only edible versions and extracts.

Schedule classification

Along with the bills to legalize marijuana, there was also a resolution to reclassify marijuana to a Schedule II drug. Currently the United States Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule I, the same classification as heroin and cocaine. With the abundance of legal changes likely to take place regarding marijuana, those living in or visiting Utah may not realize that strict criminal penalties are still present. For more information on penalties and legal counsel regarding possession of marijuana either for medical or recreation use, contact a criminal defense attorney.