Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Crews Say Drones Hamper Firefighting Efforts

Courtney Flatt
Northwest News Network
The Range 12 Fire has burned 70,000 acres between Yakima and the Tri-Cities.

A wildfire in southeast Washington has grown to 70,000 acres between Yakima and the Tri-Cities. More than 100 crew members are working to keep the Range 12 Fire from spreading.

But they say something could slow that work down: drones.

Firefighters have seen a drone zipping around the fire. And when that happens, they have to ground their helicopters and planes. Sometimes for hours.

A bird’s eye view of large fires might look cool in pictures, with flames spreading and smoke rising in the sky. But fire crews say: Just don’t do it.

“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,” Bureau of Land Management spokesman Randall Rishe said. “And there’s a drone. That helicopter has to leave, and it’s like your saving grace, you watch fly away.”

Fire crews around Washington are sharing helicopters and planes. Air support teams drop water and retardant to help slow a fire’s progression.

The Range 12 Fire is burning hot and fast and officials are worried that if wind speeds pick up, it could help push the fire even farther east. Crews set a backfire on Rattlesnake Mountain late Sunday in an effort to keep the Range 12 Fire from burning into the Hanford nuclear site. Monday Rishe said he was no longer concerned fire would reach the contaminated area of Hanford.?

Firefighters had been concerned that they wouldn’t be able to stop the fire if it crested over the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, the highest spot in the area with rugged slopes. 

Evacuation orders that had been in place over the weekend in Benton County were lifted Monday morning.