SALEM, Ore. — After enduring such a dramatic fire season in 2017, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) says that they are getting ready for whatever 2018 has to throw at them.
“We work to ensure firefighters are equipped and ready to respond quickly and effectively to wildfires all year, with a special emphasis on being staffed and ready for the drier months,” said Blake Ellis, ODF's Interim Fire Operations Manager. "We essentially double our firefighting forces going into the summer, when wildfire risk is highest.”
For the ODF, being prepared for the next fire season means a whole host of preparations—ensuring that contracts and agreements for firefighting equipment and aircraft have been signed, creating new policies to employ drones, hiring and training seasonal firefighters at ODF and interagency fire schools in June, giving refresher fire line courses to returning firefighters, and cleaning/rolling hundreds of miles of fire hose.
Last year, ODF began testing infrared technology in earnest—installing infrared equipment on aircraft to see through heavy smoke at some of Oregon's most virulent fires, like Horse Prairie and Eagle Creek. According to ODF, this imaging can allow fire managers to better accomplish real-time fire mapping and tactical planning. This year will see ODF using the new technology.
Contracted aircraft flew 1,477 hours on firefighting missions for ODF last year—more than 100 hours above average, according to ODF's Aviation Manager Neal Laugle. In recent years, various types of aircraft have become more and more vital in combating wildfires.
“From detection to fire mapping and active wildfire suppression, aircraft continue to play a critical role in the fight to save lives, resources and property,” said Laugle.
ODF will continue to have access to aviation resources from other states and federal agencies upon request.
“We have 27 aircraft based across the state, including helicopters, fixed-wing detection planes, single-engine air tankers and a large airtanker, all of which we’ve secured for our exclusive use. We also have call-when needed agreements with a number of companies for additional firefighting aircraft. Among these agreements is one for the use of a 747 modified to carry 19,000 gallons of retardant should the situation warrant,” said Laugle.
“Uncontrolled fires can be devastating. Our relationships with our partners are invaluable to support prevention and suppression efforts statewide," said Ellis.