COLVILLE - Aerial firefighting operations had to be suspended Tuesday at the Williams Flats Fire when a drone flew into a restricted flying area.
All firefighting aircraft including helicopters, Fire Bosses and large retardant planes were forced to return to the airport after the drone was spotted in the area of the about 21,000-acre blaze burning on the Colville Reservation.
“During the suspension, no aerial support was provided to the firefighters on the ground, and the fire was allowed to burn unchecked,” fire officials stated.
Anyone identified as flying a drone in a Temporary Flight Restriction designation could face a fine of up to $20,000.
The fire started Aug. 2 after a band of early morning thunderstorms. About 800 personnel are assigned to the fire, which is burning in short grass, timber and brush. The fire is listed at 25 percent contained. Firefighters are facing a number of challenges including very high temperatures, active fire behavior in steep and rocky terrain and wildlife dangers including snakes and bears.
Level 3 evacuations were issued Wednesday morning in the area of Little Nine Mile Creek West to Whitestone lookout, as well as residences south of the Columbia River, according to Colville Tribes Emergency Services. The blaze moved to the east overnight and could reach Nine Mile-Hellgate Road Wednesday, blocking the only evacuation route out of the area for homes that were notified to prepare to evacuate.