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Utah To Be The First To Authorize Disabling Drones Near Wildfires

Firefighters across the U.S. have had to ground water-dropping aircraft because of drones getting to close to fly-over zones.

Posted on July 13, 2016, at 8:55 p.m. ET

Matt Rourke / AP

Utah lawmakers on Wednesday voted to give authorities permission to down drones that fly too close to wildfires and interfere with water-dropping operations, a first for the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

As drones become cheaper and more accessible to the public, they've also become a nuisance for firefighters battling raging brush fires who have had to stop water drops to prevent the possibility of a mid-air collision.

The bill, which is expected to be signed by the governor, does not specifically outline how authorities can bring down a drone, leaving them wide discretion in the field.

"The redneck in me is just to shoot the damn thing," Utah Senator Evan Vickers told lawmakers during a special session on Wednesday.

Officials, however, would more likely use other devices to jam a signal or disable them in a more "humane" way, he added.

Spenser Heaps / AP

The Saddle Fire near Pine Valley, Utah.

Though most personal drones are relatively small, they could still seriously damage helicopters or airplanes.

Firefighters in southern Utah, for example, have been fighting a fire for about a month and have spotted a drone flying over the area five times, the AP reported.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office has offered a $1,000 reward to find its operator.

Officials grounded all flights Friday when a drone was spotted. The last sighting occurred Sunday.

Several states have laws on the books that prohibit drones from flying over brush fires, and firefighters across the U.S. have launched campaigns against the practice.

But the Utah law appears to be the first authorizing officials to bring drones down during a fire.

A law in Louisiana, the AP reported, allows officials to disable a drone if it endangers the public or an officer.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.