Drone nearly collides with helicopter working on Grassy Ridge Fire
Fire officials are reminding the public not to fly drones into wildfire areas after a helicopter nearly struck one on Wednesday morning.
The incident involved a helicopter working on the Grassy Ridge Fire, burning northwest of St. Anthony, around 9:20 a.m. Officials with the Great Basin Interagency Incident Management Team 3 said the pilot spotted the drone just in time to avoid a collision.
“The incursion into the TFR airspace nearly cost the lives of three firefighters working this fire and a very expensive aircraft,” according to a news release. “A photo of a white pickup truck speeding away from the area of the near miss was taken by a flight crew member. The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office was notified and law enforcement officers were dispatched to the area.”
Officials say Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) bar non-incident aircraft from flying over the fire. And they note that all pilots, including drone operators, are required to check TFRs and other FAA Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) for information before they fly.
Due to Wednesday’s incident, all of the aircraft being used to fight the Grassy Ridge Fire were grounded while the area was checked to ensure it was safe to fly, and officials say that hampered fire suppression and repair efforts.
“Remember: We Can’t Fly If You Do!” the news release stated.
While the Grassy Ridge Fire, which threatened the City of Dubois and killed dozens of cattle over the weekend, was 97 percent contained as of Wednesday morning, crews were still working in the area.
“The focus for fire resources today is to continue suppression repair, such as repairing dozer lines and building water bars for erosion control,” according to a news release. “Crews will continue to monitor and patrol the fires edge and mop up interior islands of unburned fuel.”
The fire’s size was reduced from nearly 104,000 acres to 99,502 after officials were able to map islands within the perimeter that didn’t burn.
On Tuesday afternoon, a fire north of Blackfoot destroyed 50 acres of grain and damaged a new combine.
Blackfoot Fire Department Chief Kevin Gray said the combine started the fire in a field off Hansen Lane around 1:30 p.m. A hot bearing or other piece of equipment likely sparked the flames.
Although an individual was operating the combine at the time of the fire, the person was able to get out safely, Gray said.
Firefighters from Blackfoot and the BLM responded to the scene and were able to extinguish the flames within a couple of hours.
While firefighters have been able to stop some fires, others are continuing to burn throughout the state and more starts are expected.
The National Weather Service forecast office in Pocatello this week issued Red Flag Warnings for portions of southern and eastern Idaho, which remained in effect until Wednesday evening. They issued the warnings due to thunderstorms and other critical fire weather conditions.
“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” the warnings stated.
Weather officials urged residents near any wildfires to evacuate immediately if they’re ordered to do so.
In central Idaho, a wildfire about 6 miles east of Bellevue had grown to 38,360 acres by Wednesday morning.
Officials said about 220 firefighters were working to protect small towns and ranches in the area from the Sharps Fire that was 21 percent contained and burning north into the Sawtooth National Forest.
“The fire is actively burning on the north and east side. This is expected with predicted weather and fire behavior,” according to a post on the Idaho Fire Info Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon. “Fire officials have necessary resources in place and are not calling for additional actions at this time.”
In west-central Idaho, the Mesa Fire near Council had covered 31,969 acres. About 450 firefighters were battling that blaze that was 26 percent contained. U.S. Route 95 remained open through the area.
North of that fire, about 500 firefighters were assigned to the 3,851-acre Rattlesnake Creek Fire burning near Polluck and threatening several small communities. Pre-evacuation notices were in effect in the North Polluck, Whitewater Wilderness Ranch Estates and Pinehurst areas as of Wednesday morning.
The Graves Peak Fire burning southwest of St. Joe Lake near the borders of the Idaho Panhandle and Lolo National Forests was estimated to be 35 acres in size on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Idaho Fire Info Facebook page. There were no closures associated with that fire, but crews were working to keep the flames from entering the Lolo National Forest where historical structures were at risk.