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.”
State forestry departments in Washington and Oregon had hoped to try out drones this summer to provide reconnaissance at wildfire scenes. But neither firefighting agency managed to pull it off. Now both plan to try again next year.
State foresters in southern Oregon acquired a remote-controlled helicopter at the beginning of fire season, but discovered they couldn’t legally fly it without pilot’s licenses. The training and paperwork are now in progress.
Meanwhile, a leader in the Northwest’s unmanned aircraft industry has launched a separate project to develop a nighttime wildfire reconnaissance capability. Eric Simpkins of Bend, Oregon, said he’s lined up four drone providers willing to donate flight time to demonstrate the new technology for wildfires.
“Fires do change during the night. Winds come up, move the fires a lot,” Simpkins said at an industry conference in Warm Springs, Oregon. “It is very hard for fire managers to know what is going on during hours of darkness and it inhibits their ability to get a quick start the next morning.”
This past July, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources got emergency approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deploy a drone at a wildfire north of Wenatchee. Boeing subsidiary Insitu provided one of its ScanEagle unmanned aircraft to use for free. But the experiment was scrubbed at the last minute.
A state spokesman says they want to try again next summer on a tamer wildfire.
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.
The photo shows helicopter 205RH inserting firefighters on the Bingham Complex on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. The ship is operated by Hillsboro Aviation and is on contract for the Grants Pass Heli-rappellers. In the photo, pilot Joseph Berto is at the controls and the firefighters in the foreground are Mayfield, Johnson, Hastings, and England.
The Bingham Complex has burned 452 acres in and near the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. The incident management team is calling it 55 percent controlled.
These photos of a DC-10 air tanker dropping on a fire near Twisp, Washington were no doubt taken with a telephoto lens with the aircraft on the other side of a ridge. From the vantage point of the camera it appears that the aircraft was very low, but camera angles can be deceiving. Regardless, the photos are interesting.
Its sister ship, Tanker 105, began work on June 8 at Redmond, and the two of them were busy working the fire that day.
Kevin McCullough, the President of Erickson Aero Tanker, told us the air tanker delivered 12 loads of retardant in 3.9 hours of flight time. It was reloading at the Redmond air tanker base, 17 miles northwest of the fire. I don’t know if that’s a record for an air tanker that is not a 747 or DC-10, but there can’t have been many that dropped 48,000 gallons of retardant in less than four hours. Mr. McCullough said it carried 4,000 gallons on each sortie. The Martin Mars which holds 7,000 gallons of water may have hit that number or maybe even a lot more if a scoopable lake was close.
We asked Mr. McCullough if there were any problems with ingesting retardant into the engines and he said there were not.
Two of Erickson Aero Tanker’s DC-7 air tankers will begin their contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry in the first part of July. They are waiting for the final paperwork but it appears that their third DC-7 will start a 120-day contract with CAL FIRE at about the same time.
Erickson purchased the air tanker operations of Butler Aircraft from Travis Garnick in December of 2012. The deal included three DC-7s.