Inside the helicopter operation used to fight the Flat Fire

MERLIN, Ore. – The Flat Fire is growing and is now over 29,000 acres.

But containment doubled overnight and is now up to 28%.

Officials with the Flat Fire say air resources, like helicopters, have been critical to fighting this rural fire.

Especially, when the terrain, makes it difficult for firefighters to gain access.

When the Flat Fire first started, VLATS, or very large air tankers were used to control the fire.

Now, it’s shifting, as helicopters become an increasingly critical resource for the fire.

“We were really heavy on the bigger helicopters to drop water, but just with the progression of the fire, kind of what we’re doing, it’s kind of transited to that type 3 to get more recon, more intel,” Flat Fire air operations director Isaiah Jimenez said.

You’ll find helicopters like these taking off at any given moment from the Grants Pass Airport in Merlin.

Nine¬†helicopters are being used at the ‘helibase‘ set up for the Flat Fire.

The airport is roughly 18 air miles away from the fire, which is a prime location for take off.

“Some place like this, that does have marine influences and smoke, the inversions that might come in, it’s a better decision to be able to work out of an airport and be able to have some distance between the fire and the air resources,” Jimenez said.

Generally, helicopters are used to dump water on hotspots or put down fire retardant.

They can carry anywhere from a few hundred gallons of water to almost 2,500 gallons.

But these choppers are used for far more than just fighting the fire.

“We have a helitack group that’s going in, so these firefighters are being delivered to the fire line via helicopter their going to be dropped off and they’re going to start working in those areas that are really hard to get to,” Flat Fire PIO Natalie Weber said.¬†

It’s an important tool used for firefighting, especially in southern Oregon.

“There’s just certain places we can’t put firefighters on the ground,” Jimenez said. “It’s a very key role in firefighting and I‘ll say it in southwest Oregon it’s really steep.”

“A lot of southern Oregon has really steep terrain that doesn’t have any road access,” Weber said. “So if we didn’t have the air craft, especially initially, it would be hours before firefighters get to some of these areas to be able to start working.”

Helicopters are also being used for getting an aerial view of the fire.

That allows for data to be collected on what’s going on in specific areas of the fire.

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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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