Apocalypse on the freeway

You’re riding along in a car on the freeway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas on a hot sunny afternoon, and the traffic slows, and then you see some weeds on fire next to the freeway, and then in the distance a car bursts into flames. And no it’s not a movie.

The fire, which erupted just after 2:30 p.m. and quickly grew to 3,500 acres, shut down the highway in both directions. By evening, it had destroyed 20 vehicles and at least four homes, and was bearing down on mountain communities. Most lanes of the 15 were open by Saturday morning, but hundreds of firefighters were still on the lines.

In a region where brush fires are a way of life, the scene on the main route to Las Vegas was surreal.

Many of those who fled their vehicles panicked, unsure of where to find safety as they watched the land around them burn. Cars, trucks and even a boat went up in flames on the freeway. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft made dramatic drops of water and flame retardant.

Once they could. They were delayed because there were drones in the area.

Officials said heavy winds mixed with dry chaparral and grass created a dangerous combination.

Shortly before the fast-moving blaze jumped the freeway and the cars caught fire, officials had to halt water drops because of a recreational drone flying nearby. It was the third time in recent weeks that firefighters were grounded because of drones. The devices could collide with aircraft that fly at low altitudes, authorities say.

It was not a movie.


  1. quixote says

    Well, to be absolutely precise, because of the stupid drone it probably is a movie. >-(

    From the reported sequence of events — fire on hillside, water drops, drone, drops interrupted, fire torching cars on freeway — it sounds like they would have been able to keep it off the freeway if they hadn’t had to sort out the idiotic drone first. Maybe the water-for-brains owner can be sued to hell and gone.

    Why don’t they shoot the damn things out of the sky? The cops seem to have no trouble shooting everything else. Why not drones?

    (I live about 100 miles from there and sometimes take that road, so I’m all worked up!)

  2. rjw1 says

    “Many of those who fled their vehicles panicked,”

    I live in SE Australia where wildfires are more intense, frequent and widespread than elsewhere.
    The usual advice to motorists is when they were unable to evade the fire was to stay in their cars, close the windows and cover themselves, until the fire front passed— definitely do not leave the car. The standard advice to people when faced with a fire on the properties and there was no escape route was to stay in the house until the fire front passed. Unfortunately, recently the state experienced fires so intense that they incinerated houses and the people inside.

    As to the drone, it’s just another example of the increasingly narcissistic behavior of people these days.

  3. L. A. Julian says

    This is the third or fourth time that drones have interfered with firefighting aircraft in that vicinity in the last month. It’s caused fires to spread but this may be the worst.

  4. Sea Monster says

    A couple years ago my son and I just missed a bush fire by a couple of hours. Destroyed forty cars.

    It was in the parking lot (car park) of Sydney’s Olympic Aquatic Centre.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    quixote @ # 1: Why don’t they shoot the damn things out of the sky?

    Just in case you weren’t asking rhetorically: the damn things are small, quick, and change course frequently: you’d have to spray the area with bullets to provide even a small chance of hitting it, at major risk to persons/property at whatever unpredictable spots they might come down.

    I anticipate the police-industrial complex will develop and deploy anti-drone drones before long.

  6. rjw1 says

    @6 Pierce R Butler.

    Rather than anti-drone drones, my suggestion is compact, shoulder-launched, subsonic anti-drone missiles.
    Everyone should have one to protect their privacy from spying government agencies.

  7. AndrewD says

    It has been my view that drones have an obvious weakness, the RF link between drone and operator. The easiest way to deal with drones in these circumstances is to either override or jam the link with very powerful transmitters.

  8. David Evans says

    @7 rjw1

    How long before
    (a) someone mistakes a drone delivering vital medical supplies for one belonging to a “spying government agency” and shoots it down?
    (b) a wayward missile or a falling drone kills someone, possibly by causing a traffic accident?
    And how long after that before draconian legislation is enacted against both missiles and drones?
    Unless, of course, the NRA has by then decided to add “and missile” to its title.

  9. rjw1 says

    @9 David Evans
    Given America’s record on civilian weapons control, I doubt that the events described in (a) and (b) would make any difference whatsoever, ie the NRA would win the argument. It’s obvious that the right to carry anti-drone missiles will become enshrined in the American psyche, and of course it follows that drone operators would have the right to use counter-measures. Interesting times.

    @8 AndrewD
    Jamming doesn’t seem be a good idea, high energy EM radiation might really piss a lot of people off and wouldn’t be useful anyway, if the drones were autonomous.

  10. quixote says

    @6 Pierce, yes, that makes sense. I understand that in Europe they’ve been using lasers to, shall we say, discourage drones at certain events and places. Apparently very effective.

  11. naturalcynic says


    you’d have to spray the area with bullets to provide even a small chance of hitting it, at major risk to persons/property at whatever unpredictable spots they might come down.

    The already have those – they’re called shotguns. Standard equipment in some cop cars. Getting the OK to use them could be a problem, however.

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