Above: Air tanker 52, a CV-580, departs Medford, Oregon for the Bybee Creek Fire in Crater Lake National Park. Photo by Tim Crippin.
Tim Crippin took these photos of CL-415s and CV-580s at the Medford, Oregon Airport August 1 and 2. Some of them were working on the Bybee Creek Fire in Crater Lake National Park which has burned 720 acres since it started on July 28.
We have been honored recently with a wealth of information and photos from Medford, Oregon. Tim Crippin took these between June 7th and 9th of air tankers departing from the air tanker base for the Pony Fire in Northern California.
The progression of the three air tankers through the retardant loading and refueling procedures was “like a ballet on the tarmac”.
Above: Neptune tankers 01 and 41 at Medford, Oregon, June 9, 2016. Photo by Kristin Biechler.
Kristin Biechler spent a couple of hours Thursday at the Medford air tanker base in southwest Oregon. She sent us this report and took the photos Thursday evening. Thanks Kristin.
“Base Manager Lonnie Allison was very cooperative and allowed me to talk with various staff, including ground crews, pilots and dispatchers and to take photos up close. The Medford base is really jumping these past three days with the Pony fire in northern California. Neptune tankers 01, 10, and 41 (all BAe-146s) are making turnarounds to the Pony fire in about 45 mins. From Medford it’s about 12 minutes of flight time to the fire. They drop their retardant, then return to Medford to fill up with retardant and refuel if needed.
The pilots were telling me they get about 3 hours of flight time per refueling. Pilot John Gallagher said the Pony fire had made a big run on Wednesday night. He noticed a significant difference this morning that the fire had gone down into the canyon almost to the river and up another flank. He was based out of Redmond yesterday, but the three Neptune tankers are in Medford today for the Pony fire.
It was like a ballet on the tarmac with all three planes on the ground at the same time. The Redmond airport is also busy with aircraft on several fires in Eastern Oregon. T-162 and T-163 (photos from 6/8/16) are now assigned to Eastern Oregon fires, rather than the Pony fire in California.
I was listening to the air traffic communications between pilots and the Medford tower plus the USFS tanker base. A few minutes after departure one of the Neptune pilots reported seeing a new wisp of smoke, single column, and circled around to give coordinates. That turned out to be a small grass fire, very near the USFS Applegate Ranger District office. The tower made appropriate notifications and an Oregon Department of Forestry hand crew was dispatched.
Also of interest was the report that the Redmond, Oregon airport had to be shut down due to a disabled air tanker on the runway. Tankers from there are currently assigned to Eastern Oregon fires (Owyhee Canyon and Akawana fires.) All tankers were being diverted to Klamath Falls, OR for refueling. There is also an air tanker base at Klamath Falls so refueling and retardant would not be an issue.
Also, note that VLAT T-912 is flying out of Castle AFB in California to the Pony fire. One of the dispatchers told me the turnaround on that DC-10 was about 53 minutes on the Pony fire.
I also met and talked with the ground crew that manages the retardant station. Cristina Serabia and her daughter, Jasmine Serabia are employed by Hunot Retardant Company out of Ramona, California and work on a USFS contract at Medford. Ms. Serabia indicated when the second, portable base is opened at Medford for Very Large Air Tankers (VLAT) she will assign a crew to that location and will also work shifts on that side of the airport. The scheduled date for opening that base is July 1 but with all the early fire activity it may be necessary to open it sooner.
Medford Air Tanker Base Manager Lonnie Allison wanted everyone to know, “we’re already kicking butt here at Medford.” As of noon today, they had just pumped 100,000 gallons of retardant for the season which began on June 5.”
The amount of retardant pumped at the Medford Air Tanker Bases this year was more than four times the 10-year average for the airport.
Below is a report provided by the Jackson County Airport Authority:
“Here is an update with some interesting statistics from the Medford Air Tanker Base for our recently-ended (and VERY busy) fire season:
The Medford Air Tanker Base mission is to support wildland fire suppression in the Pacific Northwest. We provide support mainly to Southern Oregon and Northern California.
2014 was very big fire season for our suppression area. The Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport was fortunate to have two Airtanker Bases. We managed both the Medford Air Tanker Base (MATB) and the portable Medford Very Large Airtanker Base (VLAT). Medford ATB pumped out 1,068,226 gallons of retardant on 440 Air Tanker loads this season. This is more than 4 times our ten year average. At the Medford VLAT we pumped 506,893 gallons with 104 Air Tanker loads. Together the two Air Tanker Bases pumped 1,575,119 gallons of retardant.
Our highest one day total for the MATB was on 8/29. We loaded 6 Large Air Tankers 28 times with 79,422 gallons of retardant. The highest one day total for the VLAT base was 84,894 gallons on 9/7/14. We loaded two VLAT’s 8 times.
Together the two Air tanker Bases had 5 days over 90,000 gallons and 2 days over 100,000 gallons and a one day total of 143,000 gallons. On 9/6 and 9/7 the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport had its busiest two days ever with the regular commercial operations, 3 Scoopers, 5 Air Attack Planes, 2 Lead Planes and with us pumping 209,000 gals of retardant on 7 SEATs, 7 LAT’s, and 2 VLAT’s.
Medford ATB hosted a total of 31 different Air Tankers. These air tankers made 562 landings at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport.”
The U.S. Forest Service set up a portable air tanker base at the Medford Airport in southern Oregon to augment the existing air tanker base, enabling it to service Very Large Air Tankers in addition to the smaller tankers. Below is as press release from the agency:
“Release Date: Aug 25, 2014 Medford, Oregon
Contact: Virginia Gibbons, (541) 618-2113
During recent fire activity in the Rogue Valley, many residents have noticed larger aircraft flying in to support firefighting efforts than was possible in past years.
This increased capacity with aircraft is due to the Rogue Valley International Medford Airport and the US Forest Service working together to make improvements to the taxiway and the ramp, allowing for the larger planes. Starting in fire season 2014, two fire retardant airtanker bases are now in operation; the main base that is operated by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Oregon Department of Forestry, and also the new portable Very Large Airtanker (VLAT) base.
The Medford Airtanker Base (MATB) is now able to accommodate all types of airtankers, including “next generation” air tankers (MD87, BAE146, RJ85, Coulson C130Q), and Modular Aerial Firefighting Systems or “MAFFS”, which are military C130s equipped with slide-in retardant tanks.
Next Gen airtankers are newer, faster, less maintenance and provide more pay load compared to the piston-powered legacy fleet of airtankers. Next Gen airtankers have a cruise speed of at least 346 when fully loaded and can hold over 3,000 gallons of retardant. The VLATs hold up to 11,600 gallons of retardant.
“The new ramp improvements, along with the portable VLAT base, are quickly proving to be a significant asset to firefighting efforts across the state of Oregon and Northern California, as well as to Southwest Oregon,” said Medford Air Tanker Base Manager Lonnie Allison.
The two DC-10s (T-910 and T-911) using the Medford VLAT bases are the largest airtankers flying in the nation. The Medford VLAT base is the only base in Oregon that can reload the DC-10’s. Airtankers play an important role in wildfire suppression, particularly during initial attack, by reducing the intensity and rate of spread of wildfires so that firefighters on the ground can safely construct containment lines.
As an example of the increased capacity at MATB, On August 9, the two ATB’s were able to support two large fires in Northern California (Beaver and July Complexes) with the VLAT (T-911) and six other airtankers. Together, these two ATB’s delivered almost 90,000 gallons of retardant to the fires. Approximately 40,000 gallons of retardant were pumped out of the main ATB on 21 airtanker loads and 50,000 gallons out of the VLAT base on 7 airtanker loads.
Now that Medford has two ATB’s, they can reload both the VLATs and other airtankers at the same time. Between VLAT reloads, the ATB is able to divert airtankers from the main ATB to the VLAT base, making both bases more efficient, with quicker load and return times to the fires.
Another recent example of enhanced airtanker support was for the Rogue River Drive fire, which was threatening 130 homes between Sam’s Valley and Shady Cove. On August 11, approximately 20,000 gallons of fire retardant was dropped via seven loads provided by two airtankers. Later that afternoon, both air bases were used to deliver 70,000 gallons of retardant via 33 loads provided by six airtankers; with 21 loads out of the main base and 11 loads out of the portable VLAT base.
On the morning of August 12, 12,000 gallons of fire retardant was dropped via four loads provided by two airtankers to the Grey Back Complex. During the same afternoon, 6,000 gallons of fire retardant was dropped via five loads provided by two airtankers to the Delta Fire in California. The combined total of retardant delivered to fires in southern Oregon and northern California on August 12 totaled approximately 90,000 gallons via 42 loads provided by 8 airtankers delivered to three fires.
The total amount of fire retardant that has been pumped from the two airtanker bases in fire season 2014 is approximately 500,000 gallons; with approximately 420,000 gallons from the main airtanker base and approximately 75,000 gallons from the portable VLAT air base. The 10-year average at MATV for annual fire retardant use is 235,000 gallons per year. With the increased capacity, the Medford Airtanker Base has already doubled the average of retardant for fire season 2014 that is typically pumped for an entire fire season.
Airport Director Bern Case said, “I am thrilled with the tremendous relationship that has been developed with the Medford Airtanker Base and the Rogue Valley International Airport. Working together, we have made a great resource even better. These improvements benefit all in the region.” “
Kristin Biechler sent us these photos that she and Dave Clemens shot at the Medford, Oregon Airport (map) over the last few days. She said her house is directly under the tankers’ flight path to the Happy Camp and Beaver Fires in northwest California. The planes depart MFR, she explained, bank west, and mostly follow Highway 238 toward Jacksonville and out to Applegate Reservoir and into California.