REDMOND, Ore. -

Fire retardant use is at an-all time high at the Redmond Air Center. There are two reasons for it. This fire season is particularly intense and newer planes can fuel faster and have bigger tanks.

The 10-year average is around 700,000 gallons of retardant. This year, the air center has already used 721,000 gallons -- a number that wouldn't be that impressive if there weren't at least two months of fire season left.

Fire retardant is the red substance dropped from air tankers onto wildland fires. It can be used in dry forms or, when mixed with water. is a slick, watery substance. The Redmond Air Center uses the second form.

It is a vital part of fighting fires.

"I was on a large fire last year, and we had a crew of about 20 stuck on a mountain," Darrell Bohannan, air tank manager, said Wednesday.

The only way to get them out safely was to drop retardant on the area. That allowed them a safe path to retreat from the flames.

One misconception about the substance is that it puts out fires. Bohannan said that's not the case. Retardant is used to lower the intensity of the blaze. That allows crews to get in there and work in a safer environment.

"It's just a good tool all the way around," Bohannan said.

Planes can hold up to 4,000 gallons of retardant, and the Redmond Air Center can fill these tanks in a matter of minutes. However, the substance isn't cheap.

"Around $1.60 to $2.00 a gallon," Bohannan said.

It can be as expensive as $3 earlier in the season.

Quite a bit has been used so far, and with a couple months of fire season left, there is likely more to go.