An inside look into the mobile retardant base for the Smith River Complex

O’BRIEN, Ore. – You may recognize the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum right off Highway 199 near O‘Brien in Josephine County.

What you may not know is it’s playing a crucial role into the firefighting efforts of the Smith River Complex.

“It’s been really busy since we got here,” fire retardant master mixer Andrew O’Brien said. “I would say on our second day here we went through around 45,000 gallons and then the following day probably about 30,000 gallons.”

Andrew O‘Brien is the man behind mixing the fire retardant carried by helicopters.

His company, ‘Aerial Fire Support’, was called on by the U.S. Forest Service for the Smith River Complex

O’Brien said he’s been to many fires, but this one is unique to him.

“This is one is really cool because it’s in a vineyard, Augustino Vineyard,” he said. “Also, it’s in the town of O‘Brien. My last name is O‘Brien, I‘m originally from Ireland so it’s kind of really cool our company was called on this.”

The vineyard size makes for a perfect spot to house a mobile retardant base.

“We just look for a nice open area, kind of like a baseball field, football size field,” O’Brien said. “Takes us about four hours to get set up. And then in the back here, you’ll see I have the mix truck, I can do about 3,500 gallons there and the product tank holds about 6,200 gallons.”

Helicopters come out of the ‘Siskiyou Smokejumpers Base’, then fly over to the base to retrieve the retardant or water, which is only four miles from the flames.

“The idea of these mobile retardant bases is to get them really close to the fire, and for quick turnarounds,” O’Brien said. “And the quick turnarounds have been around 5-to-7 minutes. Back and forth to the fire.”

There are five helicopters working on the complex.

They can carry anywhere from 700 gallons to 2,000 gallons of retardant.

Air tankers have not played as big as a role on the Smith River Complex mainly due to the difficult location of this fire.

“Over here it’s real steep terrain so sometimes the air tankers have a hard time getting in there, where when the helicopter comes in, it’s like a fine brush, it can kind of paint the lines, extend the lines and all that,” O’Brien said.

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NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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