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The Utah House voted Monday to ground unmanned aerial drones that interfere with fighting wildfires.

It passed HB126 on a 66-7 vote, and sent it to the Senate, to create criminal penalties for violating the ban.

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, sponsor of the bill, said that drones recently forced the grounding of aircraft that were fighting several wildfires, including one on Mt. Timpanogos in his home Wasatch County. He said the drone interference forced an airplane to dump a load of fire retardant outside of its target area.

Powell's bill would make it a misdemeanor to fly a drone within three miles of a wildfire, and a felony if it leads to any loss of life.

Powell said public utilities, media and other groups could still legally use drones in a fire area if they coordinate with the incident commander.

When asked if it would allow "shooting down" drones in the wrong area, he said no — but that may actually be considered in the future.

For now he said his bill allowing criminal penalties is "a positive step in protecting our first responders."

— Lee Davidson