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100 years of fighting Oregon fires from the skies

The Oregon Department of Forestry is celebrating its aviation unit’s 100th year fighting fires, which started in 1919 using repurposed World War One military planes.

Today, state helicopters, air tankers and air attack units all make a big impact fighting fires on Oregon’s forest land.

The equipment today has come a long way from the WWI biplanes that ODF started with in the early 20th century. Those war planes were repurposed to survey forests and detect lightning and fires.

Eventually the department introduced helicopters after they were developed in the 1940s and 1950s, and today they even use unmanned air units.

Related: Oregon used drones more than any other state to fight fires in 2018

“The quality of life of folks in the Rogue Valley is very much linked to our mission,” Medford Unit Forester Lee Winslow told KDRV. “You can rest assured that, just like 100 years ago, the folks in our organization are looking out to try to access the best tools to do our job. We’re still doing that today.”

To help improve firefighting capabilities, Oregon’s private landowners pitch in significant funds that provide ODF with access to high-tech equipment. The recent purchase of infrared technology for a state airplane to access wildfires from above was made possible thanks to landowner money.

Watch this video from KDRV covering the aviation unit’s 100 years: