Photos of air tankers attacking fire one mile from air tanker base

Tanker 103 drops fire Medford Oregon
Tanker 103, (an MD-87, N293EA) drops on a fire west of the Medford, OR airport Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin shot these photos of two air tankers dropping on a fire that had just broken out one mile west of the air tanker base at the Rogue Valley International Airport (MFR) at Medford, Oregon. Here is what he wrote:

I took these pictures of Tankers 103 and 910 dropping retardant on a fast moving brush fire that was racing up the Bear Creek Greenway near I-5 between North Medford and Central Point, OR yesterday (9-9-2020). This fire threatened multiple businesses and structures including a FedEx building and Costco. The city of Central Point was on a Level 3 evacuation shortly after it started due to the rapid spread of the fire.

The fire was only about 1 mile west of the Medford Airport and the tankers and helicopters that were working on the South Obenchain Fire were diverted to this fire. They had 3 air tankers do drops and they were Tankers 60 (missed their drop), Tanker 103 and Tanker 910. Along with multiple helicopters.

I took these pictures near Million Air at the Medford Airport.

The South Obenchain Fire has burned about 12,000 acres 12 miles northeast of the airport.

Tanker 910 drops fire Medford Oregon
Tanker 910, (a DC-10, N612AX) drops on a fire west of the Medford, OR airport Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.
Tanker 910 drops fire Medford Oregon
Tanker 910, (a DC-10, N612AX) drops on a fire west of the Medford, OR airport Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Tim Crippin.

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19 thoughts on “Photos of air tankers attacking fire one mile from air tanker base”

  1. Does anyone have any video of aerial firefighting appliances actually putting out a fire? I’d be grateful if I could see some aerial photos showing where a fire has stopped once it hit an area covered in retardant applied from the air.
    As an Australian, I cannot find hard evidence anywhere to show that aerial firefighting appliances are worth the money which, in my view, should be reallocated for undertaking prescribed burning to reduce fuel loads.

    1. Bernie,

      Here’s an Australian study on airtanker fire fighting effectiveness. It was done before Australia started using heavier air tankers but it is very informative as far as effectiveness of air assets.

      Like all studies, there is information overload but if you don’t want to wade thru all of it, just read the executive summary. It should be clear that use of air assets in conjunction with ground firefighters greatly improves the odds of success.

      Australia got very good value for their tax dollars from this study.

    2. The resolution is not that black and white. Here in the States much of our aviation assets are dedicated to prevention/ mitigation and prescribed burning. You must look beyond one or two of our western states or Federal Lands where prescribed burning is used far less than in other parts of the United States. UAS/ UAV (Drones), fixed-wing and helicopters are all tools that play a part when deployed correctly and are an intricate part of the team for the overall mission. Ground forces in my state, Florida , are always looking to the sky when they arrive on a fire to make sure their cover/ safety tool, aviation is there to play it’s part and to protect the ground forces. Aviation is simply a tool to help our Forest Rangers on the ground.
      Francis Neeley
      Pilot/ Firefighter

    3. As a resident of a small northern California town, our town was saved from destruction by an air drop of fire retardant in August 2018. Stopped fire from coming directly into town, diverted it into non-residential area where our local firefighters (all volunteers) put it out. Unless you’re on the receiving end of what these big beautiful aircraft can do to a fast-moving fire coming at you, I’d hold off criticisms of their work. Hat Fire is what the name of our fire was.

      1. Thanks for the comment and I am not anti-aerial firefighting. However, I have to ask: around your small Californian town, what effort was put into prescribed burning in the year or two prior to the fire. In other words, what fuel reduction efforts formed part of your community’s fire action plans?

  2. Time for Wildland Fire Combat 101; Air Resources In The Tool Box And What Retardant Drops Can Do For You

    While retardant (the red stuff) will actually put out a fire, this not always the case, and as the name implies, it is a fire retardant. Ergo, it retards the fire. The retardant mix (water-base retardant ratio) and application density all play their part.

    Dropping retardant either ahead of the fire or directly on the fire, buys time for hand crews/engine crews and dozers to cut line (see containment). The retardant can and does take some of the heat out of the fire so those crews and get in and cut line. If you don’t follow up the retardant drop/retardant line, if the fire reaches that retardant the fire can and will burn through.

    Usually, aircraft drops of both retardant and water on the flanks of the fire are intended to both heard the fire and pinch off forward progress.
    Of course, under extreme conditions (fuel/fuel load, fuel moisture, WIND, topography, drought etc.) nothing will stop a wild land fire until one or more of those conditions change. We see that right now in California and in other Western States.

    Of special note here is that fire prevention is always cheaper and is another resource in the tool box. But when a fire breaks out you still need resources, including people, fire apparatus and fire fighting aircraft. It is a “Pay me now and pay me later” thing. But certainly, fire prevention and fire combat both cost money.

    I have seen retardant drops stop a rampaging fire where the meets fire. This doesn’t mean that the retardant puts out all the fire around the drop unless the fire is small (relative term).

    I have also seen fire blowing through retardant lines where there were no crews follow up the drop.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Tom D. In Australia, last summer’s fires were uncontrollable because of terrible weather conditions and high fuel loads. In response, certain vested interests called for more aerial firefighting capacity at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, downplaying the importance of fuel reduction burning in autumn/winter/spring. Your comments are consistent with my understanding of the effectiveness of aerial appliances: retardant does help under most conditions but fighting uncontrollable fires from the air is ineffective, leading to the conclusion that fuel reduction is something Australia should focus on.

      1. How do you get control of an uncontrollable fire? Do nothing? Do something, and if so, what?
        Aye laddie, there’s the rub!

        Fire attack from the air should not be excluded from the tool box simply because it is expensive nor should it be excluded in favor of spending that money solely on fire prevention measures.

        The role of government has two main concepts.
        1. The protection of the lives of its citizens
        2. The enhancement of the lives of its citizens

        Fire attack from the air and fire prevention both play their respective roles in the above. Along those same lines, how would doing nothing during a wild land fire accomplish anything? Even with fire prevention measures wildland fires still burn and still need to be suppressed. At some point in time you do gain control. After control is gained (forward spread stopped via containment) the fire within control lines is extinguished.

        1. In Australia, the green movement is arguing that virtually 100% of future funding should go to increasing aerial fire fighting capacity with almost nothing to be spent on prescribed burning to reduce fuel loads. I don’t doubt that aerial fire fighting appliances have their place in the tool box but, in Australia, after something like 30 years of fuel build up in many of the areas which burnt uncontrollably last summer, the priority should be on reducing fuel loads in the lead-in to this coming fire season.

          1. I assume your Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission of 2009 that recommended prescribed burning had no impact on policy? Chapter 7 recommends prescribed burning to manage fire size and severity.


            Here in Colorado, our legislators are a bit purblind when it comes to supporting programs to mitigate our fuel loads. Judging from our West Coast fires, it would seem fairly apparent that Federal, other State, and local governments have the same problem.

            First principles should tell us that first we should mitigate then we can address other options. Big fuels=big fire potential. little fuels=smaller fire potential.

          2. It’s curious that people perennially have this discussion and seem to get hung up on this is better than that and this other thing is more effective than that other thing.

            ALL THE TOOLS IN THE TOOL BOX are valuable, and anyone who argues that removing or reducing one of the firefighting tools just hasn’t been around fire for very long. As an old rancher told me the first time I heard these arguments, you don’t build a house with a hammer.

  3. Well said Tom D. I also have to say that using air resources in a good logistical way also pays off. Like using air tankers for initial attack and catching new fires when they are small. Instead, a lot of the time they get sucked up into the large fires laying line after line of retardant when it may not be helpful for that particular fire. It’s all about good placement of your resources and of course having enough resources, which is what we are in dire need of right now. Sadly Mother Nature is winning at this moment.

  4. So amazing to see these aircraft- fighting fires so precisely.
    Greatly appreciate the people who are helping those in fire prone regions.
    The photos are a peak at the true tisks the folks take in fire fighting.

  5. Thanks, Bean. Australia has had many Royal Commissions and official enquiries, all of which recommended more fuel reduction burning and all of which have been ignored (except in Western Australia where I live and which suffered no serious fires last summer). It’s now 99% political and most local and state governments are afraid of the inner city green backlash if they conduct more than token fuel reduction burns. The federal government has little power to force fuel reductions and can only bribe them which, to date, has not worked well as the states have run off and bought more aerial firefighting appliances instead of using the money to reduce fuel loads.

  6. Kelly: Agreed, but when building your house, you only need 1 hammer and 100s of nails, not the other way around. In Australia, the focus is now overwhelmingly on buying or leasing new aerial appliances and we’ve lost sight of the need to reduce fuel loads.

  7. It’s not one or the other. That’s the trap of trying to value wildfire tools.
    By the way, you get giggles here when you call them appliances. Here in the U.S. appliances are like refrigerators and toasters and such. We generally don’t say apparatus either. We don’t pay our firefighters enough, but we do pay them.

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