La Grande Air Tanker Base helping combat Crockets Knob Fire

·2 min read

Aug. 29—LA GRANDE — The La Grande Air Tanker Base next to the La Grande/Union County Airport was a beehive of aeronautical activity last week.

Air tankers for the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department Forestry fighting the Crockets Knob Fire, 19 miles south of Prairie City, continuously flew into the La Grande base on Aug. 25-26 to pick up loads of fire retardant.

The flights from La Grande to the fire and back stopped on Saturday, Aug. 27, but may resume in the near future.

A John Day Interagency Dispatch Center representative told The Observer on Aug. 28 that air tankers dropping fire retardant on the Crockets Knob Fire may begin making regular strops at the La Grande Tanker Base again this week depending on decisions made by the incident commanders of the fire.

"It will depend on fire behavior," a spokesperson for the John Day Interagency Dispatch Center said.

The Crockets Knob Fire has grown to 1,447 acres and is zero percent contained, according to a press release issued by the federal government on Aug. 28.

The fleet of planes that have been coming in to pick up retardant fuel at the La Grande Air Tanker Base consists of three large air tankers and two single-engine air tankers, according to Craig Gilbert, of the Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch Center. The large air tankers carry between 3,000 and 4,000 gallons of retardant, and the single-engine tankers have a 800-gallon capacity.

The tankers were at the airport for at least 30 minutes if they needed to be refueled, Gilbert said.

The large air tankers, in the evening, have been kept at an air tanker base in Redmond, while the smaller single-engine planes are kept at the La Grande Air Tanker Base.

The Crockets Knob Fire is not threatening any structures and is expected to be contained by Sept. 30, according to inciweb.nwcg.gov, a U.S. Forest Service incident information service.

The fire was ignited by lightning on Aug. 22 and grew the most on Aug. 25 when it expanded from 225 to 1,000 acres.

There are considerable challenges that firefighters are facing while working to contain the Crockets Knob Fire, according to inci.web. The fire is in rugged terrain that is difficult to reach, and it has an abundance of fuel to burn, in the form of exceedingly tall brush, which is more than 10 feet tall in most areas, and heavy dead and downed materials on the forest floor.

Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer. Contact him at 541-624-6016 or dmason@lagrandeobserver.com.