BEND, Ore. - About 1.3 million gallons of retardant have been dumped on fires in Central Oregon so far this year. That is a record.
It's not because we've had more acres burn this year, but because many of the fires, such as the Milli Fire, are close to homes. That's what made the Milli Fire a high-priority fire nationwide.
Retardant is most often used when wildfire threatens property. Luckily, the Milli Fire's location, not far from Redmond, is helping firefighters.
"Because of the proximity of the Redmond Air Tanker Base, we are very fortunate that runway, then dump, then come back to the runway -- that's a 25-minute turnaround," Forest Service Public Information Officer Kassidy Kern said Tuesday. "So when some of those really critical times when we needed that air resource, it was available to us."
But it hasn't been an option recently. On Monday and Tuesday, the planes were grounded due to low visibility from all the smoke -- not just from the Milli Fire, but from others to our south, many miles away.
Crews are still working to make progress, though. Battles with wildfires are won on the ground, and all the retardant in the world won't stop a fire without a strong containment line, officials say.
One troubling new development is that firefighting crews are facing distractions. Despite the ban on campfires in Central Oregon, the Forest Service has had to attack a couple of new fire starts in the last two days, which were sparked by escaped campfires. Both were stopped at a small size, but prompted a big reminder.
"Do our firefighters a favor," Kern said. "Bring along your propane stove. We need to make sure that we do not have campfires. They are banned on all public land in Central Oregon right now. We know that that changes your camping experience, so just know before you go: Bring your propane stove."