As if fighting wildfires wasn't challenging enough, firefighting crews battling the Range 12 wildfire in southeastern Washington are dealing with drones hampering their aerial relief efforts.
Drones have become a relatively common nuisance for firefighters in the last four years despite flight restrictions over wildfire areas. Curious residents are using the small aircrafts to take photos and videos of nearby wildfires, said Elizabeth Shepard, a media representative for the Range 12 Fire.
The wildfire, which began on July 30, has burned about 175,000 acres between Yakima and the Hanford Reach National Monument, which is about 10 miles northwest of the Hanford nuclear site.
"The pilots aren't looking for anything else in the airspace. They're not looking for a small craft that can be sucked into a propeller," said Shepard.
Additionally, if firefighters manning helicopters encounter a drone, "they have to ground their helicopters and planes. Sometimes for hours," KUOW reported.
"I have been on the ground with a tool in my hands, where you have a fire coming right at you. You need that helicopter making that drop right in front of you to help it slow down so you can dig that line. And there’s a drone. That helicopter has to leave, and it’s like your saving grace, you watch fly away," Bureau of Land Management spokesman Randall Rishe told KUOW.
According to Shepard, drones aren't just an issue with the Range 12 Fire. Firefighters deal with them somewhat regularly. But, she said, drone pilots interested in filming the fires must have a license to do so.
As of Tuesday morning, the fire is about 20 percent contained, Riche told The Stranger. In addition to containment lines, crews set a "burnout" or backfire near Rattlesnake Mountain on Monday to prevent the wildfire from being blown further east by strong winds.
"Because of the burnout being successful yesterday and the containment lines, we are confident that the fire will remain within the containment lines west of Highway 240," said Riche.
Riche said officials with the Bureau of Land Management expect to extinguish more of the fire throughout the day if wind conditions remain relatively calm.