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FireWatch: The decision behind the airdrops over the Almeda Fire

Former state District Forester recalls his crucial decision in the early stages of the Almeda Fire and the lead-up to it.

Posted: Sep 8, 2021 1:09 PM
Updated: Sep 9, 2021 11:17 AM

PHOENIX, Ore. — For former ODF District Forester Dave Larson, quick decision-making is an essential trait to have when working for the state's forestry department. It came into play when calling for air support a year ago during the early stages of the Almeda Fire.

“It was probably a couple of minutes,” recalls Larson.

Photo by air tanker pilot Scot Douglas.

While the Almeda Fire tore through Talent and Phoenix, the Oregon Department of forestry was dealing with the Slater Fire coming into Josephine County, and the South Obenchain Fire east of Eagle Point.

“On that day we received the report of the fire along Almeda Drive,” Larson said, to which ODF sent out two fire engines to support firefighters.

That response quickly escalated to a much larger-scale response because of extreme conditions.

Officials then made the call to divert some of the air support from nearby fires to help out in the Almeda Fire effort.


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


“It was a fast-moving fire,” says Larson, “and those resources like the air attack were in the air over by the Grizzly Fire and immediately diverted that call because of the conditions that day.”

As conditions worsened, the decision was made to do retardant drops over residential areas. It's not often that officials choose to airdrop over residential areas, much less retardant.

In an effort to slow down the flames, the decision was made to prioritize lives over structures.

“With the air tankers it's pretty rare to drop on cities,” says Larson, “that way it came down to a tactic. Because of evacuations, trying to slow the fire down and steer it away from people trying to get out of there because the roads were closed.”

Although the residential areas where the air tankers dropped were not under ODF jurisdiction, Larson gave the order anyway as officials on the ground and in the sky saw the increasing threat to human lives.

“Because of the imminent threat to life, that incident was prioritized to the top of the list and the air tankers were able to secure those and go to work.”

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