Drone forces ODF helicopters to land while fighting Medford structure fire

MEDFORD, Ore. – The Oregon Department of Forestry said someone’s drone forced helicopters to land immediately, as they attempted to drop water on Monday night’s structure fire.

“If there is a drone in the area we cannot fly,” ODF spokesperson Natalie Weber said. “For very serious safety reasons.”

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is looking for the person who’s drone got near a structure fire in Medford.

The drone caused ODF to land their two helicopters that were doing bucket drops to keep the fire from spreading.

According to the FAA, it is illegal to fly a drone in a restricted area unless they’re operated by an agency involved in the firefighting operation.

“It’s not only just the law, it is a life safety issue for our firefighters when they are out there trying to stop a fire,” Weber said.

The FAA says it’s a federal crime, punishable by up to 12 months in prison to interfere with firefighting efforts on public lands.

According to ODF, due to where they were with Monday’s operation it wasn’t a huge loss not having the helicopters.

But no matter the circumstance, Jet Center Medford said the risk of a drone getting too close to a helicopter can have dangerous consequences.

“Having something like a drone flying around for a helicopter hits a rotor blade or something like that, it can cause damage to the rotor blade which can cause separation and ultimately cause the helicopter to crash,” Jet Center Medford maintenance director Torrance George said.

ODF said even though these types of incidents don’t happen very often, they ask that people do not fly a drone near any fire operation.

The last time a drone messed with firefighting operations in Jackson County was four years ago during the Miles Fire.

NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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