▶️ Madras-based air tankers heading to Australia to help with wildfires


Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced $20 million would go toward leasing four extra air tankers to help fight the fires.

Two of those planes will be provided by Erickson Aero Tanker, a Hillsboro-based company.

Thursday, the tankers flew out of the Madras Airport, where they are kept during the off-season for maintenance work.

“Our tank is a two-part tank, part of it is inside the airplane, the other part is down here, it connects to the pod below,” said Bryant Nielsen, Madras Maintenance Manager for Erickson Aero Tanker. “The two doors open up on the bottom and let the retardant out onto the fire.”

Usually these air tankers are contracted out to the U.S. Forest Service. They help put out fires in Central Oregon and around the U.S by flying over the flames and dropping fire retardant.

“We carry 3,000 gallons of retardant,” Nielsen said. “Depending on what the fire is doing we can adjust how quickly and how much goes out. It’s all dependent on the agency of what we’re fighting fire for.”

Erickson secured the contract with the Australian government five days ago. The MD-87s will fly out of Portland next week for Adelaide and Perth, Australia.

“We were working long hours, changing tires, putting engines on, finishing putting the airplane back together.”

According to Kevin McLoughlin, Director of Production for Erickson, this is Erickson’s first contract with another country, although he sees international contracts becoming more common.

“With what’s going on with climate change and what we’re seeing with the firefighting effort, we’re seeing it more,” he said. “Fire seasons are becoming more extreme.”

The planes are expected to be in Australia for 50 days, but the deployment could last longer.

Erickson donated the funds necessary to get the planes to Australia. And they gave the Australian government a reduced rate of use.

“We’re honored to help them out,” McLoughlin said. 

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