How fixed wing aircraft battle flames from the sky

MEDFORD, Ore. — Fighting fires is serious business.

It takes manpower, equipment, and careful planning not just for crews on the ground, but for those flying high in the sky.

“You know you get the smoke… you have a lot of radio traffic… you got terrain… it can get pretty busy up there,” said Medford Airtanker Base manager, Justin Bohannan.

Bohannan says he’s worked on hundreds of fires. He supervises all of the fixed wing aircraft coming in and out of the base.

“Everything we use is just a different tool in our tool box,” he said.

One of those tools is fire retardant; he says dropping the chemicals during an initial air attack is also where a big plane comes in handy.

“Obviously they haul a lot more retardant so you get more payload,” said Bohannan.

When it comes to fires like the Milepost 97 burning in Douglas County, Bohannan says a smaller tanker carrying 700 gallons can get closer to the ground to make more precise drops.

“I think where the fire is burning at now and where they need the retardant, it’s a challenge to get it in there,” he said.

So, why use fire retardant instead of water?

Bohannan says retardant can suppress flames for at least a few days, so ground crews can later step in.

Water only holds for, at most, a couple hours.

“If you’re just dropping water on it and you never send anybody out there… probably more than likely the fire will rekindle,” he said.

From retardant to flight traffic rules, Bohannan says it all goes back to strategy from the ground up.

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