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It takes billions

How much water would it take to put out our Southern Oregon wildfires? Are we talking millions, billions or trillions of gallons?

— Tired of smoke, Grants Pass

We broke out pen, paper and a calculator to get a ballpark estimate to your question.

The figure we came up with was about 5.5 billion gallons of water.

For the math fans out there, here’s how we got that number.

Covering one acre of land with one foot of water would require 325,853.4 gallons. We divided that figure by 12 and learned covering an acre with one inch of water would require 27,154.45 gallons.

One inch of rainwater in a 24-hour period represents a significant downpour.

Although wildfire acreage changes daily, we have about 205,000 acres of local wildfires, including the Natchez fire burning on the Oregon and California border and the Klondike fire burning between Cave Junction and the coast.

Multiplying 205,000 acres by 27,154.45 gallons of water equals 5,566,662,250 gallons.

Of course, not all of those acres of wildfires are still actively burning, but we figured we might as well douse the whole acreage to cover any smoldering spots.

We checked with National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Schaaf, and he said our methodology seemed sound.

“One inch of rain would substantially dampen fire activity or put them out,” Schaaf said.

Looking at last year’s wildfire season, Schaaf said it could take significantly less than an inch of water on the acreage to reduce smoke and slow fire activity.

On Sept. 7, 2017, the Weather Service recorded 0.12 inches of rain at the Medford airport. Another 0.13 inches fell Sept. 20, 2017, he said.

Schaaf said even those amounts of rain were enough to give the area a significant reprieve from smoke.

Seemingly tiny amounts, like 0.01 of an inch, can influence wildfires and smoke, he said.

“That might seem like sprinkles to us,” Schaaf said.

Covering our wildfire acreage with a tenth of an inch of rain would require 556,666,225 gallons of water.

A sprinkling of 0.01 inches would use 55,666,622.5 gallons.

To put the power of nature’s rainstorms in perspective, a giant DC-10 air tanker jet can carry about 12,000 gallons of fire retardant. The air tankers are modified passenger jets.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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