The Redmond Airport is busy with flights of retardant bombers that are helping fight fires around the region.
Air tankers use the same runways as commercial flights, but they refuel and reload with retardant at the Air Tanker Base on the north end of the airport at the Redmond Air Center.
Ground crews guide the planes to a stop, check with the pilots, then get busy reloading the planes with retardant.
Depending on the size of the plane, it takes 15 to 30 minutes to refuel, resupply and get these specialized aircraft back in the air.
“They have it down to a science. They do it quickly. Everybody knows what their job is,” said Jean Nelson-Dean, Deschutes National Forest. “They make sure they have enough retardant to fill up the planes quickly and for the pilots and folks on the ground, getting them out safely.”
Retardant bombers are considered national assets.
They go wherever the need is greatest.
Right now, with fires threatening Sisters and La Pine, the need for aerial retardant drops to slow fires down is great locally.
“It doesn’t stop fire. It retards fire. It helps firefighters on the ground reduce fire behavior so that they can get in and fight it,” Nelson-Dean said.
They drop it on the edges of fires to help establish fire breaks, and then come back for more.
As of Wednesday, over a million gallons of retardant has been loaded on bombers at the Redmond Airport.
“That puts us about 30 days ahead of any previous record breaking year. That’s saying something,” Nelson-Dean said. “Here we are in mid-July and we are ahead of where would be at the end of a normal fire season.”
There is an air tanker viewing area on the north end of the airport open to the public.
It is slightly elevated and it gives good views of activity at the tanker base.
You never know time of day or which day the tankers will be around, but if it’s hot and there’s fires burning locally, safe bet they’ll be busy.
Latest updates on the Darlene and Grandview Fires can be found below.