Aircraft helping Garner Complex Fire

JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. — The smoke and haze we’ve been dealing with over the last several days has limited the amount of help fire crews can get from the air, but that changed today.

Oregon Department of Forestry says the air quality up until yesterday wasn’t safe for aircraft to fly and help put these fires out.

“Pilots can’t see the ground. They can’t really see the fire,” said Andy Lyon, Oregon Department of Forestry. “They can’t really see the firefighters on the ground…”

Bad air quality means pilots can’t fly aircraft.

“They can’t see each other in the sky if they are flying too low,” he said.

It’s an important tool for fighting fast, growing fires like the ones that make up the Garner Complex in Jackson and Josephine Counties.

ODF says smokey weather created conditions that were dangerous for pilots, which made it difficult to get the job done.

“When you can’t see the ground or the fire you’re trying to drop water or retardant on…the drops would be ineffective or a waste of money,” Lyon said.

From dropping water or fire retardant on unburned parts of forests…

“So that embers that burn in there can’t start a new fire,” he said.

To providing an aerial view of things…
“Since they’re above it all, they may see things that firefighters on the ground don’t see,” he said.

ODF says aircraft play an essential role in putting out fires, often providing a helping hand with the controlled burns crews set to strengthen fire lines.

“The fire might be burning too intensely and when it does, it throws out a lot of embers,” he said. “You dump a bucket of water on it, it doesn’t put it out, but it cools it down enough so that burnout can continue in a measured fashion.”

Rob Allen, one of the incident commanders of the Garner Complex Fire, says burnouts are proving critical in their fight against the flames. However, they can’t do it alone.

“The key places that we wanted to do burnouts on, we needed the aviation support in order to do that,” Allen said.

As long as conditions allow, crews will continue getting support from helicopters and air tankers.

Firefighters have 27 aircraft at their disposal right now; some of the many state resources given to fight the Garner Complex Fire.

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