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Company fights to maintain fuel supply for Medford air tankers

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File photo A national jet fuel shortage has the Medford Airport officials keeping a close eye on their supplies during fire season.
A crew from Million Air of Medford refuel a fire tanker during the evning at the Medford Airport. Photo from Million Air Medford
A crew from Million Air of Medford refuel a fire tanker at the Medford Airport. Photo from Million Air Medford
Jet fuel shortage hits the West amid fire season

Uncertain jet fuel supplies have a Medford aviation services company fighting to maintain fuel supplies for local air tankers battling regional wildfires.

Million Air Medford at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport fuels up commercial jets, corporate jets, private planes and the aircraft flying out of the nearby Medford Airtanker Base.

Supply chain problems mean fuel supplies are uncertain, said Million Air Medford General Manager Shane Hickman.

“I would have said two to three days ago, I was doing fine and they were adequate with what I was getting per day based on what I was uplifting,” he said Friday. “But with the fires, things change daily. I would say the fuel supply is a problem. Getting drivers is a problem. So there is a pretty serious problem there.”

Jet fuel supplies fell in the United States amid a dropoff in airplane travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for fuel is rising as more people start traveling again and air tanker bases fight summer wildfires across the West, the Associated Press reported.

"We are coordinating heavily with our suppliers to maintain the adequate fuel we need to keep the air tankers going. It's obviously a priority for us,“ Hickman said. ”So we're working very hard with our team here, with the drivers that we have and with our fuel supplier to make sure that that happens.“

He said Million Air Medford is also coordinating with local agencies on the fuel supply issue.

Large air tankers generally run on jet fuel, while smaller support aircraft use aviation gasoline. Aviation gasoline supplies are more stable, Hickman said.

Although there are no significant wildfires near Medford, the Medford Airtanker Base is helping battle fires in the region.

The Jack fire east of Roseburg had burned 16,667 acres as of Friday, and the Cutoff fire east of Klamath Falls stood at 1,288 acres.

The Bootleg fire northeast of Klamath Falls is the largest wildfire in the nation, with more than 241,497 acres burned as of Friday. The fire is only 7% contained.

The Bootleg fire’s 200-mile perimeter is growing as embers whipped by dry winds spot a half-mile ahead of the main fire, fire managers said Friday.

Wildfires are also burning in Northern California.

Medford-based Mercy Flights, which operates helicopter and airplane ambulance flights and a ground ambulance service, said this week fuel supplies are adequate so far.

“At this time, we don’t expect any fuel shortage issues at our normal locations. However, we will monitor this situation and plan accordingly to mitigate any potential impact to our critical air ambulance services,” said Andrew Rhoden, fixed wing chief pilot for Mercy Flights.

Mercy Flights provides air ambulance service in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.