The Medford Air Tanker Base staying busy as fire activity cools down

MEDFORD, Ore. – Things at the Medford Air Tanker Base are cooling off in September after a busy couple of weeks.

Dozens of lightning-caused fires in our region put the tanker base to work.

“The last couple weeks the tanker base, since the fires broke out in northern California and southern Oregon has been extremely busy for us, it’s been long hours and really good work but organized,” tanker base manager Ben Crittenden said.

The Medford Air Tanker Base has been the center of air operations for many fires in our region.

In the middle of August, big fires like the Smith River and Happy Camp complexes, along with dozens of other incidents broke out around the same time.

Crittenden described what those couple weeks were like.

 “It can look overwhelming at first and you certainly have those days when you’re working from 10 in the morning when the first air craft order comes in and you’re working until 9 at night,” Crittenden said.

Over 700,000 gallons of fire retardant was used since mid-August.

At one point, the base housed five large air tankers and two VLATS, or very large air tankers, at the same time. 

But recent weather has slowed down air attack efforts, with zero tankers taking off in the last several days.

Most of them have actually left the west coast.

“It really knocked down a lot of potential those fires had, it gave a lot of resources on the ground, time to get around these fires and check up certain areas,” Crittenden said. “So I can happily say in the last few days things have really slowed down.”

Crittenden said heavy smoke from nearby fires hampered operations at times.

And although they can fly in the smoke, safety is a concern in those conditions, it’s also the top priority.

“We always consider the additional stress and effects that will have on a pilot while they’re flying and having to use only their instruments,” Crittenden said. “There’s a huge conversation between myself and the pilots whether or not they feel like this mission can be accomplished successfully and safely.”

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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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