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Oregon Civil Air Patrol joins wildfire efforts

Air crews composed of a mission pilot, an observer, and an airborne photographer are taking on assignments all over Oregon.

Posted: Sep 19, 2020 10:24 PM

SALEM, Ore. --- Flying is tricky due to smoke, temporary flight restrictions over wildfires and on-and-off rain showers, but four Oregon and one Washington Civil Air Patrol aircraft joined forces to help with some of the damage. 

Working with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Oregon Emergency Management (OEM), CAP is tasked with photographing key infrastructure from the air to help assess damage caused by fires that have ravaged almost 1 million acres in the state this year. Air crews composed of a mission pilot, an observer, and an airborne photographer are taking on assignments all over Oregon.

Using high resolution digital cameras, the highly trained CAP aircrews returned more than 151 images to emergency operations supervisors Friday. Eight sorties were flown Friday as the smoke started clearing and thundershowers dissipated.

“Conditions were challenging,” said 1st Lt Jonathan Ritchie, a pilot on Friday and Saturday sorties. “Low cloud layers interfered with access to target areas. Some crews could get to their target areas. It was a little bit challenging working around the TFRs (temporary flight restrictions). ATC (air traffic control) was very helpful in keeping us where we needed to be.”

“It is quite satisfying to be a pilot on these missions,” he said. “We do a lot of training to prepare for these kind of things. We have a great staff running the mission base to plan our sorties and keep us safe.”

Oregon CAP aircraft based in Hillsboro, Medford, Redmond, Salem and Vancouver, Wash., participated Friday. They flew assignments for the Beachie Creek Fire, the Riverside Fire, the Brittain Fire, the S. Oberchain Fire, and the Archie Creek Fire.

This is the fourth day of CAP participation. More than 33 CAP volunteers have worked on organizing, flying, and recording activities. In addition, CAP has a couple of highly trained emergency services personnel that are embedded with the OEM in Salem. They are responding to requests for air support and advising on other inter-agency cooperation.

Flying in the time of Coronavirus adds complications, as members of the aircrew need to follow special procedures to keep each other safe and protect the equipment. You cannot use normal sanitizing wipes on aircraft instruments and surfaces, for instance.

CAP in Oregon has 290 adult volunteers who train vigorously each year to be ready to help in situations like Oregon’s unprecedented onslaught of wild fires that have burned thousands of structures and displaced more Oregonians that any emergency in years. CAP trains to FEMA standards so they can operate jointly with other emergency agencies. CAP also has 247 cadet members, who train in leadership, character development, physical fitness and citizenship. Many of them train in emergency services as well, and participate in ground search and rescue and detecting emergency signals emitted by aircraft in distress.

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