PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — The Latest on the fire burning near Prescott Valley, Arizona (all times local):
A man accused of flying a drone over a major Arizona wildfire has been arrested, with authorities saying he interrupted firefighting efforts on a blaze that has forced thousands of people from their homes.
The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday that 54-year-old Gene Alan Carpenter of Prescott Valley was in custody on charges of endangerment and unlawful operation of an unmanned aircraft.
Police said they tracked Carpenter down after spotting a man near a white van in the area flying the drone on June 24, within hours of the fire being reported, and throughout the past week.
Police said the drone on Wednesday circled an official firefighting plane, posing a threat that grounded the official 14 aircrafts, including helicopters and air tankers.
It’s unclear if Carpenter has an attorney.
A wildfire that has charred nearly 40 square miles (104 square kilometers) of land near Prescott was 44 percent contained as of Saturday morning, prompting authorities to lift evacuation orders for a patch of nearby communities.
The Yavapai Sheriff’s Office states residents from the Dewey-Humboldt area and all areas west of State Route 69 south to milepost 280 can return to their homes. Multiple other areas southwest of Dewey-Humboldt remain under mandatory evacuation.
Authorities say the fire has been burning in the Bradshaw Ranger District of the Prescott National Forest.
About 1,100 firefighters were in action Friday, battling the blaze that ignited about a week ago.