With firefighting resources spread thin around the West in a big fire year, luck and timing can make all the difference. If high-capacity helicopters happen to be here and available when a major lightning storm hammers Southern Oregon, that’s good. If those helicopters already have been committed to big fires burning elsewhere, that’s not so good.
So it only makes sense that local officials should explore ways to station our own dedicated aircraft locally, ready and waiting to be called on to attack fires here before they have a chance to grow.
Jackson County commissioners are considering spending $2 million to station two Type 1 helicopters here during fire season. Type 1 choppers can carry up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant.
This summer, two Type 1 helicopters were at the Ashland airport July 15 after working the Klamathon fire, so they were immediately available when lightning ignited 145 new fires.
The Oregon Department of Forestry says one Type 1 helicopter and three smaller Type 2 choppers might be more effective. ODF’s regional forester recommends a study to determine the best mix of equipment, which is prudent, but not if it means a funding delay. The 2019 Legislature convenes Jan. 22.
Considering ODF spent $60 million fighting fires locally this year, $2 million is not a great deal of money. Our legislative delegation should make it a priority to secure it. If necessary, the county should put up the first year’s money just to get the aircraft here by next summer.