By Dylan J. Darling • The Bulletin


single-engine tankers stationed in Prineville for the first time this summer dropped …


gallons of retardant out of …


gallons dropped by Oregon Department of Forestry tankers statewide.

Small, single-engine air tankers stationed for the first time this summer in Prineville ended up dropping a large amount of fire retardant around Oregon.

The two firefighting planes dropped 195,906 gallons of retardant, according to data from the Oregon Department of Forestry. In all this past fire season, agency tankers unloaded a combined 838,000 gallons around the state, so the Prineville planes delivered nearly a quarter of that.

“They were pretty busy and active,” said Christie Shaw, Oregon Department of Forestry spokeswoman in Prineville, on Thursday.

The planes were part of a $5 million program to beef up the firefighting fleet in Oregon this past year. The agency was able to move the small tankers around the state when needed. Over the course of the fire season, they reloaded in John Day, Medford, Roseburg and The Dalles. But primarily they flew in and out of Prineville and Redmond, carrying 71,784 gallons of retardant from Prineville and 48,977 from Redmond.

Depending on the mixture, fire retardant is dropped on a fire to suppress flames or ahead of it in an effort to stop its spread.

Contracted with the state, the planes that flew out of Prineville belong to Air Spray, a Chico, California, company. Built by Texas-based Air Tractor, they cost $1.7 million each.

Smaller than other air tankers long used by the state, the planes are also faster and more maneuverable. The agency showed off their capabilities by having one of them precisely drop an 800-gallon load of retardant during a July demonstration at the Prineville Airport.

The planes provided air support on about two dozen fires, flying about 250 times this year, and probably will be back next season at Prineville, Shaw said.

“Everyone was a big fan of how they worked and what they were able to do with them,” she said, “so the plan at this point is that we would want them back.”

In previous fire seasons, the Oregon Department of Forestry had two, three or even four large air tankers stationed around the state. But this year it only had one, said Rod Nichols, spokesman for the agency in Salem. That was a converted four-engine airliner — a DC-7 — which carried about 3,000 gallons of retardant at a time.

The state used six of the single-engine air tankers, including the two stationed in Prineville, according to the forestry department.

The smaller planes, AT-802s , look like crop dusters but were designed specifically for firefighting, Nichols said. Adding to their versatility, the planes are refilled by a mobile system. Pulled by a truck on a trailer, the tanker refueling-and-refilling operation can move almost anywhere as long as there is a nearby relatively short stretch of flat ground for an airstrip.

Fire crews can set up close to where the tankers are flying, and then the aircraft can “make trip after trip to the fire,” Nichols said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,