COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Colorado Springs is a distance from several major wildfires currently burning in Colorado, but the city's airport is playing a key role in the effort to extinguish those fires.
A portable air tanker base at the airport supports aerial wildfire responses within a 600-mile radius. The base allows very large air tankers (VLATs) to reload with retardant that is used to slow the spread of a wildfire and support ground crews.
Staring Wednesday, the base was supporting two DC-10 VLATs, from Arizona and Idaho, to help fight the Grizzly Creek Fire near Glenwood Springs. Each air tanker can carry 9,400 gallons of retardant and take about an hour to depart, release its load and return for reloading and refueling at the base.
By Friday evening however, only one air tanker was using the base -- to fight the Williams Fork Fire in Grand County. That tanker had flown three missions to the area.
"The fire is in the Arapaho National Forest," a U. S. Forest Service spokesman said. "It's estimated at 250 acres and is moving northwest, and it's in a remote area that experienced intensive beetle kill of trees."
More air tankers could be using the base as wildfires in Colorado grow.
The base's resources also are available to respond to wildfires elsewhere in Colorado, as well as in Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.
The Forest Service is cooperating with the city and the airport to build a $17 million permanent base, also at the airport, that will have six reloading pits for a variety of air tankers and a separate pit specifically for VLATs.
The permanent base is scheduled to open next year. It, along with the current portable operation, are designed to support air tankers of all sizes and capabilities contracted with the Forest Service.
The Forest Service chose the Colorado Springs Airport location for its ability to provide enough ramp space for increased productivity and quicker response times.