ILLINOIS VALLEY, Ore. — Getting resources on the forest fires have been difficult. Half a dozen helicopter have been ground for most of the week due to low visibility near the fires.
As the Labrador Fire continued to burn, visibility improved, allowing pilots to get back into their helicopters and back to the fire fight. Helicopters began to take off just after noon on Friday, one of the few days since the fires began when visibility has been clear enough to get the “all clear”.
“We were able to operate out of here at about noon yesterday,” said Illinois Valley Helibase Manager Ted Hass
Ted Hass says visibility must be at least 2 miles in the distance, however, visibility below is just as important.
“It’s the same issue when dropping on the fire. They have to be able to see the people on the ground and communicate with them and make sure they aren’t putting the people on the ground in danger,” said Hass.
The improved visibility means some smoke has blown out of the area but also gives the fires a chance to grow.
“There are good and bad aspects of it. The past 5 or 6 days we’ve had an inversion layer hanging over the fire area, which holds the smoke close to the ground over the fire,” said Public Information Officer Tom Lavagnino.
The helicopters are being primarily used on the Labrador Fire because of the improved visibility and officials say they are extremely valuable to the fire fight.
“Blowing away into a different, giving us access overhead to see and recon future potential fire lines and to more effectively utilize the helicopters dropping water,” said Lavagnino
Ted Hass says with an indirect strategy the helicopters also play a big role.
“They’re down there on the dirt trying to make a fire line and our job is to enhance their fire line by putting water and widening the lines and then making sure there are no flare ups to put the firefighters in danger,” said Hass.
Helicopters will continue taking off from the Illinois Valley Airport as long as the visibility improves.