As thunderstorms and lightning pelted parts of Central Oregon Thursday afternoon, an air tanker flew over Bend on its way to fight a fire in Oakridge.
But along the way, an observant pilot spotted smoke in the area of Phil’s Trail and quickly swooped the massive jet into action.
“Nobody knows what the outcome would have been without it,” said Jean Nelson-Dean, a spokeswoman with the Deschutes National Forest.
Initial ground attack teams were ready for fire starts in the area and on the scene quickly, but they got a nice assist from the air.
“The pilot worked to find a way to drop the retardant on the ground to slow the fire, so that ground resources could get there,” Nelson-Dean said.
Justin Yax, a resident in the Tetherow area adjacent to the popular mountain bike and hiking trail area, captured some of the action on his phone.
“We knew that it had potential to be another big Aubrey Hall or something like that if it wasn’t contained quickly,” he said on Friday. “We could smell the smoke from our house too, that’s how close it was and the way the wind was blowing made it a little concerning too.”
It was contained quickly – held to about 1.6 acres – thanks to the pilot with a keen eye who noticed the blaze’s proximity to houses and other buildings, namely the City of Bend’s water filtration facility just north of Skyliners Road.
Nelson-Dean is thankful the tanker was in the right place at the right time.
“That was kind of .. I hate to call it a lucky break, but it was a lucky break,” she said. “It was really helpful that we could use that air tanker and use our ground resources to stop that fire completely from spreading into Bend.”