SUNRIVER, Ore. - Wildfires are increasingly fought in the skies as well as on the ground. Nowhere was that more apparent than at this year's National States Fire and Aviation Conference hosted by the Oregon Department of Forestry at Sunriver Feb. 6-8.
The meeting's purpose was to bring aviation managers from across the nation to discuss important fire and aviation issues impacting aerial firefighting programs. Over the course of three days, dozens of fire managers, contractors, vendors and researchers engaged in learning about the latest advances in aerial firefighting technology.
The conference highlighted multiple presentations about unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as drones), including lessons learned from their experimental use in last summer's wildfires, to the evolving regulations governing how they can be flown.
Additional topics included short-wave infrared technology and its ability to see through heavy smoke and provide sharp images and fire mapping in real time for on-the-ground fire managers. Attendees also heard about aircraft maintenance, new research on chemicals to make water more effective at suppressing wildfire, and Colorado's expanding use of its firefighting plane for other hazard-related missions.
Attendees came from as far away as Alaska, Florida and Pennsylvania to the site of the conference at the Sunriver Resort near Bend, not far from where a number of wildfires burned in the Cascades during 2017.
Deputy State Forester Nancy Hirsch welcomed the conference attendees to Oregon, emphasizing the importance of cooperative relationships between states during increasingly challenging fire seasons.
ODF's Aviation Manager Neal Laugle said the event underscored the growing recognition of the vital importance of aircraft in the battle against catastrophic wildfire.
"From detection to fire mapping and active suppression support, aircraft now play a critical role in the fight to save lives, property and natural resources," Laugle said. "Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the state of Oregon beginning to use aircraft to spot wildfire from the sky, so we were especially proud to host this year's conference. It looks like the next 100 years will see even greater reliance on airborne resources by state and federal agencies to help us carry out our firefighting mission."