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Since You Asked: Firefighting tankers filled valley's summer skies

It's really great to see the commercial airlines are doing well in our little valley. I watched all those tankers coming and going from the Medford airport this summer, it seems they were constantly filling the sky. Can you tell us more about the role they played? 

— Walt H., Medford

To sum it up in a phrase, the folks at the Medford airport tell us the number of tanker loads sent to fight fires in Southern Oregon and Northern California was more than four times the 10-year average. That's not even counting what is known as the "Very Large Airtankers" — that's those DC-10s you saw visiting on several occasions.

On the weekend of Sept. 6-7, airport officials report the busiest two days on record for commercial fire-fighting operations — sending three scoopers, five air attack planes, and two lead planes ahead of 16 tankers of various sizes carrying 209,000 gals of retardant.

By official count, the airport supported two airtanker bases: Medford Air Tanker Base and the portable Medford Very Large Airtanker Base. The standard air tanker base pumped 1,068,226 gallons of retardant for 440 missions. The very large airtankers flew 104 missions, carrying 506,893 gallons of retardant. All told, 1,575,119 gallons of retardant was delivered from Medford.

The highest one-day total was Aug. 29 when six of the typical tankers loaded up 28 times with 79,422 gallons of retardant. To show how much more capacity the VLATs have, on Sept. 7, two DC-10s were loaded eight times and delivered 84,894 gallons.

Together, the two bases had five days when they pumped more than 90,000 gallons and two days delivering more than 100,000 gallons, and a one day total of 143,000 gallons. A total of 31 air tankers took part in the summer operations, making 562 landings.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.