An aerial drone hampered efforts on Tuesday to extinguish the Silver Dollar Fire.
The air tactical group noticed the drone hovering above the edge of the fire at roughly 11:20 a.m. As a precaution, three helicopters and an airplane were grounded.
The helicopters were putting water on the hard-to-reach areas of the fire, such as the cliffs above the Columbia River.
The air tactical group coordinates aerial firefighting efforts from the airplane, said Jacob Welsh, the Silver Dollar Fire’s information officer. They also act as eyes in the sky for firefighters on the ground.
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Sheriff’s deputies are investigating who was flying the drone.
It’s uncertain what effect the interupption is going to have on the fire, which officials estimated was 60 percent contained on Tuesday.
The interruption does cost taxpayers a significant amount of money, Welsh said.
“Anytime you have helicopters sitting and not working you’re basically wasting money,” he said.
The Silver Dollar Fire has burned about 20,000 acres, including some land on the Hanford Reservation.
Flames crossed onto the Hanford Reservation early Monday morning, but the fire was contained, and no structures of contaiminated areas were burned, said Rae Moss of Department of Energy contractor Mission Support Alliance on Monday.
About 400 people are working toward fully containing the brush and grass fire that started at noon Sunday about 35 miles outside of Yakima.
A wet winter combined with a cool, wet spring to lengthen the grass and brush growing season, is providing more fuel for the fire, Welsh said.
The wind is pushing the flames east and southeast. A night shift worked to make sure the fire didn’t advance past the containment lines.
Officials are not sure how much the fire grew overnight, Welsh said.
The fire has threatened 25 homes and five other buildings since it started, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
Welsh said no structures have been damaged.
Firefighters used heavy equipment Monday to build containment lines along highways 24 and 240, just north of the Richland city limits. The work prompted the state Department of Transportation to close the roads.
The cause of the fire remains unknown.
A haze was visible near Richland on Tuesday morning, but state Department of Ecology air monitoring stations list the air quality in the area as good.
Officials also spent Tuesday working on assessing the repairs necessary to fix damage caused by firefighting efforts.
The command post for the fire is set up at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. Federal, state, county and city agencies are cooperating in battling the blaze.