By Dylan J. Darling
With weeks, perhaps months , left in the Central Oregon fire season, air tankers have already dropped more retardant than average for a whole season .
Over the past 10 years air tankers in Central Oregon have dropped an average of 700,000 gallons of retardant per year, said Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman at the Deschutes National Forest.
“We were above (that) at the end of July,” she said.
As of Wednesday said air tankers loaded up at the Redmond Air Center, home to the air tanker base in Central Oregon, had dropped 835,322 gallons in 325 loads, according to Kassidy Kern, another spokeswoman with the Deschutes National Forest. The tanker base services federal and state air tankers.
Air tankers loaded at the air center last fire season dropped a total of 852,470 gallons of retardant in 372 loads, according to Kern. Retardant costs an average of $1.95 per gallon, Kern said.
Despite the demand for retardant this fire season — which air tankers drop ahead of a wildfire to try to stop its spread — Nelson-Dean said the supply hasn’t run short at the air center.
The fire season has already been a busy one for crews covering the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests, the Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management and private and state land protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Over the past decade those lands averaged 363 fires each fire season. So far this year there have been more than 460. The fires have burned more than 260,000 acres, dwarfing the average burned acreage for the past decade of 35,000 acres.
While the National Weather Service wasn’t able to provide figures for the typical amount of lightning in Central Oregon during a fire season, thunderstorms this year have brought thousands of strikes.
From June 20, just before the start of summer, through Wednesday there have been 10,000 to 12,000 lightning strikes in Central Oregon, said Joe Solomon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton. The figures are for cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, the type of lightning that may spark wildfire.
The season for thunderstorms and wildfire isn’t done yet in Central Oregon.
“We typically see thunderstorms into the month of September,” Solomon said.
Some forecasts for the next week in Bend call for more thunderstorms.
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