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TALENT, Ore. — In September of 2020, Scot Douglas was a co-pilot on Tanker 60, a 1958 DC-7 contracted by the Oregon Department of Forestry to make retardant drops over wildland fires around Oregon.
Around 1 p.m. on September 8 last year, Douglas’ crew was notified that they had a mission to fly retardant drops over the Almeda Fire.
Normally, retardant drops are made over unpopulated areas. This mission was different from others he’d flown. This mission would drop retardant on neighborhoods, including his own.
Douglas lives in Talent. While lining up for their first run, he looked down and saw his wife and daughter hosing down their yard as the fire advanced from the south.
By the time his crew flew their third drop, the smoke had obscured his view. Douglas didn’t know if his house had survived.
“There is an emotional impact when you’re flying over neighborhoods that you're trying to protect. When you’re not successful, it does get to you emotionally because you know that people are losing their homes and property. It wasn’t until the fire last year that it really hit close to home, figuratively and literally. I have a greater empathy for those people who have had to go through things like this,” he said.
Douglas was focused on the mission, and was “wondering if my home will survive," he said.
When he finished flying he was unable to return home. The neighborhood had been declared a crime scene, His wife and daughter told him that they had evacuated to Ashland with friends, and he stayed in a motel in Medford.
It was not until he made subsequent drops on September 9 that he saw that his house had survived.
He was able to return home after two days.
In the past, Douglas recalls fire season ending earlier than now. “Our fire season is getting longer and longer. We used to have things wrapped up in September or October, and now it seems to be going year-round, certainly nationwide, certainly in California,” he said.
He has been flying retardant planes since 2013, but says that most of the recognition should go to those on the ground.
“The bulk of the credit goes to the ground-based firefighters. Those are the folks, the young women and men who are doing that line of work; they’re literally, in some cases at arm’s-length from the fire. We get to fly over it, we drop the retardant, and then we get to leave. They have to stay out here all day and all night working on it,” he said.