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FireWatch: Air tanker pilot’s mission over Almeda Fire was unusual, and meaningful

Scot Douglas' crew made nine retardant drops over Jackson County on September 8, as the Almeda Fire burned its way north through Talent and Phoenix.

Posted: Sep 8, 2021 12:47 PM
Updated: Sep 8, 2021 5:30 PM

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.

Photo by James Shannon.

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.


FireWatch: The decision behind the airdrops over the Almeda Fire


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.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 357526

Reported Deaths: 4284
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah55810707
Washington38782324
Marion36837455
Clackamas29779309
Lane27744302
Jackson23059310
Deschutes20336125
Umatilla14492150
Linn12911131
Douglas12118243
Josephine9384196
Yamhill8715113
Klamath8020119
Polk737381
Malheur563677
Benton549431
Coos503794
Columbia382644
Jefferson376052
Lincoln319939
Union319549
Crook291846
Wasco288841
Clatsop244328
Baker203529
Tillamook196932
Hood River192837
Morrow185023
Curry180625
Harney113927
Grant100013
Lake93912
Wallowa68612
Gilliam1544
Sherman1523
Wheeler1121
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 4850807

Reported Deaths: 71341
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles148419226540
Riverside3716705041
San Diego3673614183
San Bernardino3586775692
Orange3242885562
Sacramento1596362309
Kern1463481648
Fresno1463182094
Santa Clara1455431897
Alameda1206921400
San Joaquin1027761721
Ventura1010381167
Contra Costa1000181008
Stanislaus862991335
Tulare80375978
San Francisco54440649
San Mateo54168623
Monterey50911586
Solano46063341
Santa Barbara45223523
Merced42422581
Sonoma40997404
Placer39435429
Imperial36071766
Kings32938325
San Luis Obispo29973333
Madera23955285
Shasta23924352
Butte23818273
Santa Cruz21034221
Yolo20397248
Marin17706244
El Dorado17207149
Sutter13937175
Napa12898100
Yuba1011582
Tehama9534110
Humboldt9269109
Nevada916790
Mendocino766787
Lassen754347
San Benito744972
Tuolumne691790
Lake6631105
Amador547364
Siskiyou451246
Glenn438433
Calaveras391481
Del Norte358742
Colusa307618
Inyo214241
Mono16723
Plumas16607
Mariposa133916
Trinity88011
Modoc6895
Sierra1880
Unassigned1460
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