“Once in a generation” is the phrase often used to describe the unprecedented Oregon wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and scorched hundreds of thousands of acres of our most treasured natural beauty, from campgrounds to hiking trails and hot springs.
Oregonians throughout the state waited and prayed as fire suppression efforts organized by the Department of Forestry, the Oregon National Guard and partners battled the rapidly blazing infernos.
Before long, though, many of began to collectively realize that “once in a generation” will likely occur again more quickly than we realize.
When disasters like these do occur, we need general aviation airports like the Aurora State Airport, which are equipped to be a key emergency staging area for quick suppression and recovery.
Beyond being one of 84 general aviation airports in the nation with a national significance designation from the FAA that is given to airports playing a critical role in national transportation needs and emergency preparedness, the airport holds a strategic geographic location.
Being just south of the Boone Bridge and above the 100-year flood plain, KUAO holds a significant base of operation in the event of a disaster, particularly one where the bridge would need to be closed.
The airport’s capabilities as a key emergency staging area are also reflective of the businesses that were willing to activate at a moment’s notice.
In instances like wildfires that occurred last month, a wide range of fire suppression aircraft — including two Army National Guard UH-60M Black Hawks and S64E Skycranes — utilize the airport’s space and capacity for tank refill and retardant mixing.
The airport’s Water Control District even offered up to 50,000 gallons of water per day in order to support the area suppression efforts. Fixed-wing aircraft equipped with FLIR cameras flew out of Aurora, assisting firefighters on the ground by identifying hot spots and trends of fire direction.
All these aircraft could and will assist in the next disaster.
Other businesses stepped up to support the efforts as well. Lynx FBO Services provided assistance with fuel, aircraft marshaling and coordination of ramp space. Helicopter Transport Services used 2,650-gallon sky cranes on fire suppression in Gates and Detroit lake.
Wilson Construction employees used company equipment to assist with fires in Scotts Mill. Wilsonville-based FLIR leveraged its thermal imaging to help ODF planes departing from the airport to see through the smoke.
Robb Grubb, Commercial Helicopter Pilot for Apex Helicopters recalled, “Our job was to support our customer, the Oregon Department of Forestry, during the wildfire events this September. The support offered by the airport—secure access to our aircraft, fuel, logistics, made our job easier and more enjoyable.”
As routine summer wildfires and other once in a generation events inevitably occur, Oregon leaders will continue to look to the Aurora State Airport as a key staging area to provide life-saving services for firefighting fixed-wing and rotorcraft operations.