By Len Ramirez

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Parts of Santa Clara County are officially off-limits to drones. County leaders and law enforcement said that the small, unmanned aircrafts can cause dangerous problems on the ground when they fly in unauthorized areas.

Officials gathered to announce a new county ordinance that makes it illegal to fly drones over active fire zones or near the county jail.

In 2017, Santa Clara County Fire Department had to call off water-dropping aircrafts during the Eden Fire in Saratoga because someone flew a drone in the operation area.

John Justice, Santa Clara County Fire Department’s Assistant Chief, said that the drones can have “catastrophic consequences” when they interrupt the path of an airplane or helicopter.

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Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said that several drones have recently been spotted flying near the Elmwood jail, and a few have even crash landed inside the secure perimeter. She thinks the drones might be used to transport drugs or weapons to inmates.

“Because we found the crashed ones, we know it’s probably happening more than we’re aware of,” said Smith.

The county estimated that there are around 5,000 registered drones within county limits, and there may be even more that aren’t registered.

Even in experienced hands, drones can be difficult to operate.

There are already state and federal laws on the books governing the use of drones. One of the most important rules is that any drone over half a pound must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Alex Montano, the pilot of KPIX 5’s Sky Drone 5, said that many drone operators don’t bother with the proper regulations or planning required to safely operate drones.

“You can now go down to Target or Walmart or Best Buy and pick up a drone and not comply with any of these rules,” said Montano.

Santa Clara County said that the problems of easy access to drones and lack of regulation are what they’re targeting with the No Drone Zones.

“If you operate in any of these areas that are restricted, you are going to lose your drone,” said county supervisor Cindy Chavez.

Besides having one’s drone confiscated, fines of up to $1,000 may also be issued.

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