MEDFORD, Ore. — The U.S. Forest Service indicated Thursday that it is in the midst renovations of the Medford Airtanker Base ramp apron, the area where firefighting aircraft are parked and loaded, as fire season begins in southern Oregon.
According to a statement from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the agency received omnibus grant funding to upgrade the ramp apron in 2019. Over the past eight months, forestry officials have been working with the Jackson County Airport Authority to incorporate the rehabilitation project into a new 20-year lease.
Photo by Justin Bohannan / courtesy U.S. Forest Service (Facebook)
The ramp has had issues with cracking and degradation in areas over the past two decades, RRSNF said, requiring intermittent patchwork to repair it. Those issues have raised aircraft safety concerns.
“We’re pleased to receive this funding so the aircraft can navigate the ramp more easily,” said Tanker Base manager Justin Bohannan.
Work on the ramp will prohibit use of the area at the outset of fire season, but RRSNF officials said that a number of factors went into the timing — taking into account the need for good weather, increasing material costs, and the current availability of the Klamath Falls Airtanker Base to serve as a stand-in while repairs are underway. Officials decided to move forward with the deadline of completion by July 1.
“These repairs will give us continuous airtanker loading capabilities and coverage for Southern Oregon and Northern California and allow us to get these safety issues corrected before the height of our fire season, said Amanda Lucas, Unit Aviation Officer for RRSNF and the BLM Medford District.
If the ramp is needed for firefighting efforts while repairs are underway, tankers will have several contingencies — using the Klamath Falls Airtanker Base during the early season, and transitioning to the use of a mobile retardant base that is expected to be ready on the east cargo ramp by June 20.
Construction began on May 27, and is expected to wrap up at the end of four weeks. The Very Large Airtanker (VLAT) ramp is also supposed to be up and running on June 21, and officials say there will be "no break in the availability of retardant with the ramp work."
“We really appreciate the cooperation of Jackson County Airport Authority to work with us to make this happen, as we could not have gotten this project completed without them. Working in partnership with them helped keep the cost down and get the work completed in the needed timeframe,” said Lucas.