Medford Air Tanker Base opens for 2023 fire season

MEDFORD, Ore. – The Medford Air Tanker base is operated by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest at Medford’s airport.

The orange planes that use it are often seen in the summer and early fall.

“We spent the last couple of days getting prepared, we brought our people on today, and we’ve been doing our training and sort of dusting off the cob webs this summer,” acting manager at the Medford Air Tanker Base Ben Crittenden said.

With ODF declaring the beginning of fire season Thursday, things are quiet.

Right now, you’ll actually find zero tankers at the base.

That’s because they’re being used by other federal agencies to fight wildfires in places, like Southern California or Florida.

“A lot of those areas are having their main fire seasons right now so we positioned those air tankers down there, but they’re only about an hour, hour and a half flight from those locations to here,” Crittenden said. “In a minute we can move them anywhere we need to.”

Crittenden, the acting manager of the base, said it dispatches tankers, owned by the forest service, to other national forests in the region as needed.

It also contracts with ODF.

The base is also home to the state’s large air tanker, which is used by ODF.

It will arrive in Medford sometime in late June or early July.

“For a number of years now, the state has had it’s large air tanker stationed here in Medford, which is extremely fortunate for us here locally to be able to have this resource so close,” ODF Southwest Natalie Weber said.

The Medford Air Tanker Base is ready at all times, even without a tanker.

It even works with other bases, especially as fire season ramps up.

“We put the red stuff on the airplanes, make sure the pilots are taken care of, make sure the fueling gets done,” Crittenden said. “We have a great network here as far as other air tankers go between Klamath Falls, Redmond and Redding to help support us and we help support them.”

The east apron, at Medford’s airport, is expanding to hold even more air tankers.

That project, expected to cost roughly $9 million should begin this summer.

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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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