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Air Tanker Costs Adding Up Quickly

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MEDFORD, Ore. — Up, up and away. It’s not just the helicopters and air tankers, it’s the costs to use those aircraft.

“Those costs add up pretty quickly and we try to use those resources efficiently,” Matthew Krunglevich with ODF said.

As the multiple wildfires have kept burning, the costs to keep aircraft fighting those fires have increased.

“Our air tankers go for about $9,000 per hour,” Krunglevich added.

That’s about $150 per minute. The costs cover the aircraft contract, maintenance, fuel, and landing fees at airports. But fire retardant is extra, anywhere from $2 to $4.25 per gallon, and they have used a lot of it on the more than 75,000 burning acres.

“We’ve pumped about 135 loads this year and over 350,000, almost 375,000, gallons of retardant,” Krunglevich explained. “Many times, the amount of retardant that we’ve pumped in one day has been more than we’ve pumped in a whole year.”

Helicopters can run between 1,000 and 15,000 per hour, so the Oregon Department of Forestry wants to make sure they’re used right.

“The Forest Service is actually the Contract Administrator for the retardant, the state is the ones that operates the airplanes, and the tanker base is joint funded, so we have a lot of different partnerships and we work in collaboration,” Krunglevich said.

Because there could still be plenty of time before those aircraft finally touch down for the year.

“We’re still only halfway through August, so we still have a lot of fire season left.”

As it stands now, landowners pay for the first $10 million of wildfire fighting efforts for the Oregon Department of Forestry. After that, the state picks up the next 15 million, and then a $50 million insurance policy kicks in.