With smoke from the 2017 wildfires still fresh in the minds of Oregonians, the Oregon Department of Forestry is already gearing up for this summer’s wildfires.
The agency’s Interim Fire Operations Manager Blake Ellis said a lot of preparation goes on behind the scenes each winter and spring. “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 Ellis. “We essentially double our firefighting forces going into the summer, when wildfire risk is highest.”
Readiness activities include:
- Contracts and agreements for firefighting equipment, aircraft and other resources have been signed.
- A new policy governing use of remotely piloted aerial vehicles (also known as drones or UAVs) has been adopted. These systems will support fire protection and natural resource management.
- Hiring of seasonal firefighters is underway. New firefighters will attend training at ODF and interagency fire schools across the state in June.
- Permanent and returning firefighters will take fire line refresher training over the next two months.
- Hundreds of miles of fire hose have been cleaned and rolled, ready for use statewide.
Last year ODF had great success testing out infrared technology. Carried on aerial vehicles, the equipment was able to see through heavy smoke on two Oregon wildfires – Horse Prairie and Eagle Creek. These systems provide sharp images and real-time fire mapping for fire managers, boosting safety and tactical planning. This year ODF is incorporating these technologies into its toolkit.
ODF’s Aviation Manager Neal Laugle said the increasing use of various types of aircraft in recent years highlights the importance of keeping up with new technology to achieve the agency’s mission. “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.
Last year, contracted aircraft flew 1,477 hours on firefighting missions for ODF, more than 100 hours above average, he said. For 2018 the agency has contracted the same number of aircraft as last year.
“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.”
ODF will continue to have access to aviation resources from other states and federal agencies upon request.
“Uncontrolled fires can be devastating. Our relationships with our partners are invaluable to support prevention and suppression efforts statewide,” said Ellis.