Last week the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) began Phase Two of an evaluation of using Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) at night. This phase builds on the training and lessons learned during Phase One which occurred in Grant County in July 2019. ODF’s Aviation Unit has been working with the contractor to develop safety guidelines and procedures for target and firefighter identification for night operations on ODF protected lands. Firefighters from the John Day Unit will again coordinate in the training and evaluation of the operation. There will be increased night traffic at the airport during the week of July 20 as part of the SEAT evaluation activity.
During Phase One the SEAT dropped water on simulated fire targets directed by firefighters on the ground. The SEAT pilot uses night vision goggles to identify the target and all ground resources including fire engines and personnel. Firefighters use verbal cues and hand signals utilizing chem sticks to direct the pilot to target location. During Phase Two firefighters from the John Day Unit received training focused on safety of the pilot, firefighters, observers and ensuring effective application of the SEAT drop as well as operation of the SEAT Base, located at the Grant County Airport. Single Engine Air Tankers are capable of dropping 700 gallons of water, fire retardant, or fire suppressing gel. These drops are intended to slow the spread of the fire and allow firefighters and equipment to build fireline to control and contain the fire. Water will be used during the initial evaluation activities.
Following initial training of ground personnel last week, evaluation of night SEAT proficiency began July 21. The operation is evaluated on safety procedures, effectiveness of the drops, and communication. ODF’s Partenavia aircraft, equipped with a camera and night vision systems, will record and supervise the operation. The aircraft is equipped with thermal imaging cameras for use in fire detection, along with coordinated mapping capabilities.
Upon completion of the night SEAT drop exercises and final evaluation by ODF’s Aviation Unit the plan is for staffing a SEAT at night in anticipation of a lightning event where night operations can be used in actual fire suppression on ODF protected lands.
ODF currently contracts five Single Engine Air Tankers as part of the suppression resources throughout Oregon.
Tim Crippin shot these photos of air tankers at Medford, Oregon July 19 and 20, 2020. The DC-7C (N838D) is operated by Erickson Aero Tanker and the B-737 (N137CG) by Coulson Aviation.
Here is what Tim told us about the photos:
Tanker 60 arrived in Medford on July 19th to begin the final year of fire fighting for the DC-7’s as they will be retired after this year. Caught their arrival in the picture with their landing gear. Been in Medford two days and has already been dispatched to two fires.
Yesterday Tanker 60 departed Medford for the Days Creek Fire burning about 14 miles Northeast of Canyonville which is two of the pictures. It worked along with three helicopters, two SEATS out of Redmond, and Tanker 161 out of Redmond.
Tanker 137 made their first ever visit to Medford to reload for the Milepost 21 Fire in Northern California. They made two load and returns out of Medford before going to Chico to reload for a fire near there before returning to Santa Maria for the night.
(Originally published at 2:32 p.m. PDT September 11, 2019)
Tim Crippin shot these photos of air tankers that were working on the Lime Fire and reloading at Medford, Oregon on September 7 and 9. They were all departing when the pictures were taken.
The Lime Fire, according to a mapping flight at 1:42 a.m. Wednesday morning, has burned 2,011 acres, but it was reported to be 1,911 acres at about 10 a.m. Wednesday by the Incident Management Team. The blaze is in Northern California 32 miles south of Medford, west of I-5, and just north of Highway 96. The fire has been fairly quiet for the last 24 hours. Fixed wing and satellite overflights Tuesday night did not detect a great deal of heat.
This is the first photo we have published of Tanker 167, an Aeroflite RJ85, and we have very few of Tankers 93 and 96.
Little information is available about a reported forced landing made last week by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) air attack plane, 52 Uniform.
The Cessna 206 was on a fire recon mission when the pilot reported a mechanical malfunction and was forced to set down in the Black Bear Swamp northeast of Butte Falls. Both occupants of the aircraft escaped injury, but the plane was severely damaged.
There is a report that both men walked away, literally hiking out to meet personnel on the way to assist them.
The accident occurred around August 9. We will update this article when personnel at the ODF return our calls.
Todd McKinley sent us these photos taken Saturday, August 10, 2019 in Oregon. He said the AS350 B3 was at Ritter Butte in northern Grant County and at a nearby fire in the Ritter/Long Creek area. The Huey was at the Grant County Regional Airport Helibase in John Day.
Tim Crippin got these excellent shots of air tankers that were at Medford, Oregon July 27, 2019 supporting the Milepost 97 Fire south of Canyonville. Thanks Tim! The fire has burned 12,578 acres since it started on July 24, 2019.