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.” “