(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Going into wildfire season, the Colorado Springs Airtanker Base helps ensure airtankers are fueled and provides a space for pilots to rest before going back into action.
“So the Colorado Springs Airtanker Base opened in 2022, May of last year,” Colorado Springs Airtanker Base Manager, Josh Walk, said. “We serve an area about 300-mile range… air tankers come and get retardant, they get fuel and then they take those loads out and support the guys on the ground.”
The Airtanker Base not only supports the state of Colorado but also neighboring states.
“Well, for neighboring states, the Rocky Mountain region does consist of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota,” U.S. Forest Service Regional Fire Communications Specialist, Laura McConnell, said. “So in the event that there is a fire in those areas, this base is ready to go and to provide some support to those fires as well and to our partner agencies.”
At the base, there are 100 bins of MVP-Fx, which is the fire retardant provided to crews during wildfires.
“This product isn’t made to put out a fire,” Walk said. “The tankers lay a line in front of a… fire front, and the fire moves towards it and it slows down the fire so the boots on the ground can actually engage and extinguish the fire.”
When airtankers need more fuel they can stop down at the base to be refueled.
“A tanker comes in, we get notified through dispatch, they’ll call in with a load in return and positive for fuel. We call the local jet center,” Walk said. “They’ll bring a fuel truck down. Our guys will get established. We marshal them and tell them where to go. Stop them…. will load up the hoses to the plane, pump the right amount of retardant that they ask for onto the plane to refuel them, and they’ll take off back to the fire from there.”
Walk said it is a quick turnaround in refueling the aircrafts.
“Depending on the aircraft, the larger tankers that we contract, we can fill in about 8 minutes,” Walk said. “The very large air tankers, about 18 minutes, a little bit more, but very quick turnaround.”
For McConnell, she has spent 24 years working with fire: “I don’t believe there’s been a month that we haven’t seen fire of some size in the state of Colorado as well as possibly in a partnering state,” she said.
When looking into the future, McConnell said there is no longer a fire season, it is a fire year.
“This year, we’re looking at a normal fire year for Colorado, but that still means we could have up to 5,500 fires within the state,” said McConnell.
In regard to the significance of the airtanker base, McConnell said it will also help assist with partner agencies and the crews on the grounds fighting the fires.
“Well, here in Colorado Springs, it’s nice because… this year, especially based on the current outlook, is we do have drier conditions down here on the southern end of the state,” McConnell said. “So being able to have the support here and the base ready to go to support fires that we’ve seen just recently, is I think it’s good for our partner agencies to be able to rely on this, but also the counties and all of our crews that are on the ground that are fighting the fires.”
The month of May is wildfire awareness month and McConnell said the state is launching a new campaign.
“We’re really trying to get people to empower and to educate themselves on what they can do to protect their homes, what they can do around to be part of the solution,” said McConnell.