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Illegal drone flight forces halt to aerial fight against 500-acre Upper Applegate Fire in Jackson County

The Upper Applegate Fire burning south of Ruch in Jackson County
Oregon Dept. of Forestry
The Upper Applegate Fire burning south of Ruch in Jackson County

(Update: State wildfire dashboard updates, reduces fire's size; adding Yakima wildfire, evacuations)

RUCH, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Fire personnel spotted an illegal drone flying in the area of the Upper Applegate Fire Friday evening, Jackson County sheriff's deputies said. Firefighting aircraft are unable to fly if a drone is in their operating area, so flights were grounded for the night.

Firefighters and Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies were searching for the drone operator. Anyone with information about the illegal drone was asked to call the JCSO Tip Line at (541) 774-8333.

The Oregon Department of Forestry said in a Facebook post, "Drones can cause fatal accidents and the safety of our pilots and firefighters below is not something we will risk."

The Oregon State Fire Marshal on Friday mobilized two structural task forces to help out on the Upper Applegate Fire in Jackson County, which prompted Level 1 pre-evacuation warnings and had grown by Friday afternoon to 500 acres.

The task forces are from Lane and Polk counties and were mobilized through Immediate Response, a tool the state fire marshal uses to send firefighting resources outside of a conflagration. The structural task forces will support the Applegate Valley Fire District.   

According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, as of Friday morning, the Upper Applegate Fire was estimated to be 500 acres in size; the state's wildfire dashboard on our Fire Alert page had an early afternoon size of 2,550 acres but later greatly reduced it; an ODF representative said the fire was about 500 acres at last report

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office had Level 1 Be Ready evacuation notices in place for homes near the fire. You can find the latest information about evacuations here

ODF said the fire south of Ruch was burning in extremely steep terrain and affecting private, BLM and Forest Service land on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Reported around the same time Thursday afternoon, at the other end of Jackson County, the Highway 62 Fire south of Shady Cove was estimated at 75 acres and 100% lined by Friday morning, affecting both private and BLM land.

A new grassfire broke out Friday southeast of Cave Junction and burned about five to six acres before it was "wet-lined" in an aggressive initial attack. No structures were directly threatened.

“Our priority is to proactively protect our communities from the threat of wildfires. We're sending resources to boost capacity and support the Applegate Valley Fire District until the fire is contained,” said Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple. “With warm, dry weather in the forecast, the risk of wildfires is heightened across Oregon. We urge everyone to help our firefighters by taking preventive measures to avoid sparking a wildfire this summer and follow all burning restrictions.” 

For information about the fire, please follow the Oregon Department of Forestry – Southwest District. Learn how to be #WildfireAware this summer by following these wildfire prevention tips

Immediate Response is made possible through the OSFM’s Response Ready Oregon initiative, created through Oregon’s wildfire omnibus bill, Senate Bill 762, signed into law in 2021. LEARN MORE: Response Ready Oregon.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, Level 3 "Go Now" evacuations were ordered for residents of Yakima's Terrace Heights area along Keys Road. It was reported to be about 56 acres in size, KNDU reported. Over 20,000 Pacific Power customers had power out for a time; all but about 250 had it back by late Friday afternoon.

Fire in Yakima's Terrace Heights area prompted evacuations along Keys Road (Photo courtesy KNDU)

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Barney Lerten


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