During fire season last summer in southeast Oregon, the Burns Municipal Airport ran out of fuel for firefighting airplanes nine times.
With drought expected to bring an even worse wildfire danger this year, airport Manager Jeff Cotton, community members and the Bureau of Land Management, which manages much of range and forestland in the region, began looking for ways to avoid similar shortages and response delays. Having to halt flights until fuel was delivered interrupted the firefighting effort.
Cotton and the others learned a military surplus tanker truck was available at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and federal General Services Administration approved the airport’s request. The tanker was free, and the BLM paid for two drivers and a low-boy hauling rig to go get it.
The tanker, a 1995 Volvo with only 300 miles on it, holds 6,000 gallons of fuel. Cotton said the rolling cache gives the airport about three days worth of fuel for the air tankers. He’d like more, but he’s glad to have it.
“We’ve got bigger fires, more fires and earlier fires,” Cotton said. The area saw two fires in June; the earliest last year didn’t happen until July 6.
Cotton said he hopes to obtain another tanker truck next fall or spring.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.